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University of Maryland Hit with Discrimination Suit Over Gluten Exposure

— February 29, 2020

A University of Maryland student with celiac disease is suing the school over claims that it served her food containing gluten.

The University of Maryland, College Park was hit with a lawsuit late last month over claims that it discriminated against a student with celiac disease and allegedly “repeatedly served her foods containing gluten.” The suit was filed by Hannah Smith on February 20. In it, Smith describes a handful of incidents that caused her to become “violently ill after she was mistakenly served food containing gluten.” For those who don’t know, Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder “in which eating gluten can cause an immune response than can damages the small intestines.”

A young person carrying a tray chooses among many brightly colored fruit and vegetable options in a cafeteria setting.
Public domain photo by Tim Lauer and the USDA, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. CC BY 2.0

According to the suit, Smith argues that because she was repeatedly served foods containing gluten, the university violated the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, a law that specifically includes celiac disease and other autoimmune disorders. Additionally, she claims the campus culinary staffers “retaliated against her after she complained.” 

Smith’s tussle with celiac disease began when she was diagnosed in her teens. Part of her treatment plan includes maintaining a gluten-free diet, a feat that has been easier said than done since she decided to live on campus. According to the lawsuit, “Smith and her father contacted the university and asked for a meeting to discuss whether the she would be able to eat at the campus dining halls.” It’s important to note that students who live on campus are required to purchase a meal plan. After being assured by the university’s dining services staff that accommodations could be made, Smith moved on-campus.

However, throughout the 2017-2018 academic year, Smith was allegedly “served food containing gluten at least three times.” On each occasion, Smith contacted the dining services staff to ask if the dish contained gluten, and each time she was told that it did not. Unfortunately, on each occasion the “food caused her to become severely ill and in one case led to her hospitalization,” according to the lawsuit. In another incident Smith was served blackened toast and was told by a staff member, “You know, I got called on the carpet because nobody told me that malt had gluten in it. Here’s your breakfast. I hope you enjoy your ‘gluten-free’ toast.” To make matters worse, another dining services staff member told her that the university “didn’t take food allergies seriously.”

As a result of her ordeal, Smith struggled academically as she dealt with her illness and recovery. On top of that, she was never refunded for the cost of the meal plan and was charged more money to live on campus the following year in an on-campus apartment with a kitchen.


Student files discrimination lawsuit against University of Maryland, alleging repeated gluten exposure

UMD Student With Celiac Disease Sues The University, Alleging She Was Repeatedly Fed Gluten


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