In December 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) settled a case with Lesley University, requiring Lesley University to take significant, comprehensive measures to accommodate the needs of students with serious food allergies. Details on the settlement can be found here. DOJ took the position that food allergies may constitute a disability under the ADA, and that the many steps required in the settlement were mandated by the ADA’s requirement that public accommodations make reasonable modifications to their policies, practices, and procedures that are necessary to ensure that individuals with disabilities have access to their goods and services.
However, the ADA does not require a public accommodation to engage in any measures that would “fundamentally alter the nature of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations” offered. Perhaps Lesley University could have relied on that defense if it had litigated, rather than settled with DOJ, but it is impossible to predict what the outcome would have been and no one can blame Lesley University for declining to find out.
The DOJ – Lesley University settlement has had many of us worrying that restaurants are already or will soon be in DOJ’s sights for examination of allergy-free items and allergen-free facilities. While we are still concerned about the potential impacts of the DOJ - Lesley University settlement, we have not yet seen evidence of increased investigations by the DOJ. Even more encouraging, a technical assistance document released by the DOJ after the settlement with Lesley University gives some hope that DOJ is taking a reasonable approach that is consistent with the ADA. The technical assistance document confirms that “a restaurant may have to take some reasonable steps to accommodate individuals with” food allergies, such as “omitting or substituting certain ingredients upon request if the restaurant normally does this for other customers.” However, DOJ confirmed that the ADA does not require restaurants to change their menus to offer gluten or allergen-free foods. DOJ also emphasized that Lesley University’s situation was unique because it involved mandatory meal plans.
We will continue to monitor this issue along with other ADA public accommodation issues, but for the moment we wanted to pass along some good news on this issue.
Published in Northwest Meetings + Events Magazine, summer 2013.
HOSPITALITY ATTORNEY GREG DUFF has noticed a paradigm shift in the sales contracts his clients send him. The founder of Garvey Schubert Barer's national hospitality, travel and tourism practice, he says, "Either the contracts have more terms or conditions than I have seen in the past, or those terms that have been somewhat common in the past have been revised to be more difficult." Duff shared the pros and cons of some of the newer provisions he's seeing...
In the recent decision, Friends of Hood River v. City of Hood River, the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) remanded the City of Hood River’s decision to grant a conditional use and preliminary site approval for, among other things, a 45,000 square foot, four story, 88 room hotel on the waterfront near the mouth of the Hood River. LUBA’s decision was based on the City’s failure to find compliance with its comprehensive plan.
LUBA determined that a finding of compliance with the City’s comprehensive plan was required under state law regardless of whether the local code only requires consistency with the plan. Here, LUBA found that the City’s decision did not analyze whether flooding policies, strategies, and standards found in the plan constitute mandatory standards that the application must meet. If so, the City will have to identify whether the standards are satisfied.
LUBA explained that, in practice, the language of comprehensive plans and land use regulations rarely rule the plan out as a potential source of approval criteria for permit decisions. Although LUBA recognized that comprehensive plan policies will constitute approval criteria if they are expressed in mandatory terms, it qualified this hard line approach with citation to its precedent. A project proponent cannot rely solely on the code language when it applies for land use approval, but must also consider those applicable elements of the comprehensive plan.
In addition, LUBA found the City had erred procedurally when it refused to allow Friends of Hood River, an Oregon group preserving public access and recreation in Nichols Basin, to respond to new evidence submitted by the applicant after the initial public hearing. LUBA determined that information the Friends may submit could shed light on whether the comprehensive plan policies regarding flooding are mandatory standards. When it comes to public process, applicants should expect appeals by members of the public who feel they did not have the full opportunity to comment on an application.
The practical lesson here is that land use applications require extensive due diligence early in the process to identify and address all potential state and local approval criteria, and that public participation is sacrosanct in Oregon land use decision making. Welcome to hotel development in the great Northwest. Please contact me or Greg if you have questions or need assistance to obtain entitlements for your next hotel development.
Greg Duff, Editor
Greg Duff founded and chairs GSB’s national Hospitality, Travel & Tourism group. His practice largely focuses on operations-oriented matters faced by hospitality industry members, including sales and marketing, distribution and e-commerce, procurement and technology. Greg also serves as counsel and legal advisor to many of the hospitality industry’s associations and trade groups, including AH&LA, HFTP and HSMAI.