Nation Briefs 01-18-13 Justice verdict leaves food servers more vulnerable to threats

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WASHINGTON -- People with severe food allergies have a new tool in their attempt to find menus that fit their diet: federal disabilities law. And that could leave schools, restaurants and anyplace else that serves food more vulnerable to legal challenges over food sensitivities.

A settlement stemming from a lack of gluten-free foods available to students at a Massachusetts university could serve as a precedent for people with other allergies or conditions, including peanut sensitivities or diabetes. Institutions and businesses subject to the Americans With Disabilities Act could be open to lawsuits if they fail to honor requests for accommodations by people with food allergies.

Colleges and universities are especially vulnerable because they know their students and often require them to eat on campus, Eve Hill of the Justice Department's civil rights division says. But a restaurant also could be liable if it blatantly ignored a customer's request for certain foods and caused that person to become ill, though that case might be harder to argue if the customer had just walked in off the street, Hill said.

The settlement with Lesley University, reached last month but drawing little attention, will require the Cambridge, Mass., institution to serve gluten-free foods and make other accommodations for students who have celiac disease. At least one student complained to the federal government after the school would not exempt the student from a meal plan even though the student couldn't eat the food.

"All colleges should heed this settlement and take steps to make accommodations," said Alice Bast, president and founder of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. "To our community this is definitely a precedent."

Colorado theater reopens: One survivor had to pause on his way into the theater and pray. Another braced for flashbacks as he entered the auditorium in Aurora, Colo., where 12 people died and dozens were injured during a massacre six months earlier. Others refused to come, viewing the reopening of the multiplex as insensitive. The former Century 16, now renovated and renamed the Century Aurora, opened its doors to victims of the July 20 attack on Thursday night with a somber remembrance ceremony and a special showing of "The Hobbit." Theater 9, where neuroscience graduate student James Holmes allegedly opened fire on a midnight screening of "The Dark Knight Returns," is now an XD theater with a wall-to-wall screen and stadium seating.

Toyota settles bellwether lawsuit: Toyota Motor Corp. has settled what was to be the first in a group of hundreds of pending wrongful death and injury lawsuits involving sudden, unintended acceleration by Toyota vehicles, a company spokesman said Thursday. Toyota reached the agreement in the case brought by the family of Paul Van Alfen and Charlene Jones Lloyd, spokes man Celeste Migliore said. They were killed when their Toyota Camry slammed into a wall in Utah in 2010. Migliore declined to disclose the financial terms. Attorney Mark P. Robinson, who represents the nine plaintiffs named in the suit, did not reply to phone or email messages. The remaining lawsuits are not affected by the settlement, Migliore said.

Exhumation set for poisoned winner: The body of Urooj Khan, a Chicago man poisoned with cyanide after winning the lottery, was to be exhumed as authorities try to figure out exactly how he died. The Cook County medical examiner planned to exhume the body of Urooj Khan on this morning from a Chicago cemetery. Khan died in July as he was about to collect $425,000 in lottery winnings. His death was initially ruled a result of natural causes, but a relative pressed for a deeper look. Full toxicology results revealed in November that Khan was poisoned. His death was reclassified a homicide. Authorities hope a forensic autopsy will produce more evidence and tests on Khan's organs may determine whether the poison was swallowed, inhaled or injected. The medical examiner expected to finish the autopsy today.

Closes at five-year high: Stocks closed the trading day Thursday higher, pushing the Standard & Poor's 500 index to another five-year high, after strong reports on housing starts and unemployment claims made investors more optimistic about the U.S. economy. The S&P 500 gained eight points to close at 1,480 Thursday, its highest level since December 2007. The Dow Jones industrial average also rose, gaining 84 points to 13,596. The Nasdaq composite rose 18 points to 3,136.

GM closing plant in July: General Motors Co. says it's closing a Flint-area plant this summer and will offer its workers jobs at other plants.GM spokesman Tom Wickham told Mlive.com (http://bit.ly/W2TOG1 ) on Thursday that the Grand Blanc Weld Tool Center will cease operations in July. The plant is in Genesee County's Grand Blanc Township. The plant employs 323 hourly and 28 salaried employees. Wickham says the plant's employees will receive offers of jobs at GM's Flint Tool and Die plant and Warren Tech Center in Michigan and the Parma Metal Center in Ohio.

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