In a huge victory for families with food allergies, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) ruled that a theater program violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The DOJ said the program discriminated when it refused to accommodate a 10-year-old boy with severe peanut and tree nut allergies. The program refused to have either a staff member or volunteer available at all times to give epinephrine in case of emergency.
The DOJ also ruled the Massachusetts program retaliated when it punished another child for sticking up for her friend. That child was not allowed to enroll after refusing to apologize to the director of the program. The child accused the director of discrimination.
Young Shakespeare Players East (YSPE), told the boy’s mom it would consider shutting down altogether rather than agree to give an epinephrine auto-injector if it were necessary.
"This finding is a huge victory for the food allergy community,” said attorney Laurel Francouer, who, along with attorney Mary Vargas, filed the suit.
Francoeur said the boy, Mason Wicks-Lim, and his friend, Sam Picone-Louro, are feeling "vindicated" by the decision.
“Just as the DOJ found that camps must accept and accommodate children with diabetes, the DOJ has now applied the same reasoning to food allergies. There is no longer a legal question about a program's responsibilities - they must be willing and able to administer epinephrine and must allow children with food allergies to attend."
According to the letter the DOJ sent the camp Friday afternoon, YSPE must agree to the following:
- YSPE will create a disability non-discrimination policy. The policy will include a non-retaliation provision.
- This policy will describe the steps YSPE will take to accommodate students with disabilities as required under Title III of the ADA. For example, after admission to YSPE, YSPE will request from parents information about any reasonable accommodations that children may need.
- YSPE must publicize this policy to the families of both current and former students.
- YSPE must pay damages to both children, including attorney's fees.
YSPE is considered a place of “public accommodation” under the ADA.
In a similar case, the DOJ settled a case with a camp in Maryland. As part of that agreement, the camp had to train all supervisory staff, including counselors, in emergency procedures for epilepsy. The settlement included giving medication.
The DOJ has a helpful webpage that describes your rights at www.ada.gov.
For other resources about summer camp, see: