The proposed class action lawsuit suggests that Dunkin’ has violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by charging between $.50 and $2.15 extra for dairy milk alternatives.
A proposed class action lawsuit alleges that Dunkin’ discriminates against lactose intolerant consumers by charging more money for beverages made with dairy alternatives like soy, almond, and oat milk.
According to ABC News, the unusual lawsuit was filed last month in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. It represents 10 individual plaintiffs and seeks class certification for consumers who purchased beverages “that contained non-dairy milk alternatives” between 2018 and 2023. These consumers, attorneys say, “paid a surcharge” for “plant-based or lactose-free milk” in the states of California, New York, Texas, Colorado, Massachusetts, and Hawaii.
All of the plaintiffs named in the current complaint claim to suffer from lactose intolerance and milk allergies, forcing them to “avoid consuming drinks that contain milk.” However, Dunkin’ typically charged more for non-dairy alternatives in some states, with alleged surcharges ranging anywhere between $.50 and $2.15.
The complaint emphasizes an “allergen statement” displayed in Dunkin’ stores, which asks that customers inform a barista or attendant if they have food allergies.
“Dunkin’ will modify its regular beverage offerings to remove sugar or use sugar-free sweeteners at no additional charge for those persons with diabetes or who need to control weight,” the lawsuit alleges. “However, they only accommodate those with lactose intolerance or allergies to milk by imposing a surcharge.”
“There is no expertise or additional work required of Dunkin’ employees that would substitute whole milk or fat-free milk in place of 2% regular milk, or who would make caffeine-free or sugar-free beverages, to also be able to substitute Non-Dairy Alternatives such as soy, almond, coconut, oat, or other lactose-free ‘milk’ in place of 2% regular milk,” it says.
“Additionally, the retail cost of non-dairy alternatives, non-dairy alternatives is not significantly more than dairy products,” the lawsuit states. “For example, as of the filing of this complaint, whole milk was priced at between $0.03-05 per fluid ounce, half & half between $0.09-19 per fluid ounce, and heavy cream between $0.17-32 per fluid ounce. Yet, coconut, oat, and soy milk only sell for between $0.06-07 per fluid ounce. Similarly, almond milk sells for between $0.04-07 per fluid ounce.”
Since lactose intolerance and milk allergies are considered disabilities, attorneys say that Dunkin’s “conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act,” as well as applicable state-level anti-discrimination laws.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, places of public accommodation—including restaurants and cafes—are typically required to make “reasonable modifications” to policies and practices when a disabled consumer could not purchase goods, services, facilities, or privileges without such modifications.
The A.D.A., lawyers say, specifically notes that “a public accommodation may not impose a surcharge on a particular individual with a disability or any group of individuals with disabilities to cover the costs of measures, such as the provision of auxiliary aids, barrier removal, alternatives to barrier removal, and reasonable modifications in policies, or procedures, that are required to provide that individual or group with the nondiscriminatory treatment required by the Act.”