ADA Requires Accommodation of Peanut Allergy

The U.S. Department of Justice recently found that a theater program for young people violated the Americans with Disabilities Act when it failed to provide adequate arrangements for a 10 year old boy who had a severe allergy to peanuts. The program’s director had agreed to ask other program participants to refrain from bringing nut products to the program’s activities. She refused, however, to commit to having an adult present who could administer an Epi-Pen in the event that the child accidentally ingested some nuts and had trouble breathing. Instead, she told the boy’s mother that the mother would be required to sign a waiver of liability, and should consider attending all sessions that her son attended, so that she could administer the Epi-Pen if needed.

The Justice Department found that the boy has a disability within the meaning of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The agency reasoned that, “[u]nder the ADA, a disability is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of an individual’s life functions.” The child’s severe nut allergies qualified as a disability under the ADA because it could potentially impair a major life activity, such as breathing.

The Justice Department also found that the program was “a place of public accommodation” within the meaning of the Americans with Disabilities Act, as Title III of the ADA defines public accommodation to include places of education and service establishments. Some places of public accommodations are exempted from Title III, but the program in question did not qualify for such an exemption, the Justice Department found, because it was not a private club; it was, instead, “open to all children between the ages of seven and eighteen, advertises for members, and exists to make [certain theatrical works] accessible to the entire community.”

Because the program was a place of public accommodation, it had the obligation to make reasonable accommodations for a potential participant’s disability, the Justice Department found. It determined that requiring the program to provide a supervising adult who was able and willing to administer an Epi-Pen would not have been unduly burdensome, given the fact that one would expect a children’s program to include adult supervision for the participating children. The Department also noted that the program had not shown it was unable to find volunteers willing to administer the medication, if needed.

The Justice Department also found that the program had unlawfully retaliated against a participant who had objected to its failure to provide accommodations for the participant with an allergy.

Further information about the situation, and the Justice Department’s determination, can be found HERE.