DOJ warns children’s theater over food allergy discrimination

Street sign "Peanut Free Zone"The Department of Justice has determined that a children’s theater company in Massachusetts violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by excluding a child with a peanut allergy from its program.

The 10-year-old boy in the case has life-threatening allergies to peanuts and tree nuts, which can cause anaphylaxis, shock, serious drops in blood pressure and a narrowing of the airways, the DOJ Findings Letter [PDF] states, dated June 10.

In the spring of 2015, the boy’s parents attempted to sign him up for the fall season of Young Shakespeare Players East. His parents inquired if the program could become nut-free, and requested that he be supervised by someone trained to administer an EpiPen, in case of emergencies.

While the company agreed to make efforts to make the program nut-free, the director refused to allow him to sign up without signing a waiver, which freed the company of liability in the event of an emergency and stated that there would be times where the children will be unsupervised for as much as a day at a time for dress rehearsals.

A friend of the boy, a 12-year-old girl already enrolled in the program, wrote a letter to the program director, urging him to modify his stance. The director responded by telling the girl’s parents that she was not welcome back into the program unless she publicly apologized.

The families filed a complaint with the DOJ, which conducted an investigation into the program. The DOJ found that the ADA required the program to comply with with the requested accommodations.

“Providing an adult to supervise children seven through eighteen for hours at a time, is not inherently burdensome, as most adults would find it surprising that, after paying up to $650 to participate in a production, their children would not already be supervised,” the letter states.”

Further, the DOJ found that the company violated the ADA by retaliating against the boy’s friend, and instructed it to implement a non-discrimination policy and pay damages to both families.

“It costs nothing to include a child with a food allergy just like it costs nothing to refrain from retaliating against young people who have the courage to stand up for the rights of a friend, said Mary Vargas, an attorney representing the child, in a news release. “It matters little if children are learning to quote Shakespeare if they are also being taught that some members of their community are not worth including.”

Attorneys from Francoeur Law Office and Stein & Vargas LLP are representing the child in the case.