A child's tree nut allergy may meet the definition of a disability under state law, the Iowa Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday.(Photo: William Archie, Detroit Free Press)
DES MOINES, Iowa -- Iowa residents who suffer from occasional medical
attacks such as those those from severe allergies and epilepsy are
protected from discrimination by the federal Americans With Disabilities
Act, the Iowa Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday.
The case involved
Shannon Knudsen, 30, a mother who in May 2011 sued Tiger Tots Community
Child Care Center in Madrid, Iowa, after the facility declined to
accept her child because of the child's tree nut allergy.
district court had ruled that the Iowa Civil Rights Act does not protect
the child. The appeals court, however, said the lower court erred in
not considering a 2008 amendment to the Americans With Disabilities Act
that may protect the child from discrimination.
attorney, Eric Updegraff of Des Moines, views the decision as a victory
for anyone with epilepsy, severe allergies or other serious medical
conditions that periodically flare up.
More U.S. children have
developed food allergies over the years. The percentage of children
with peanut or tree nut allergies more than tripled to 2.1 percent
between 1997 and 2008, according to a 2010 study published in the
Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. Scientists can't explain the
increase, though one theory suggests modern, clean living environments
leave immune systems vulnerable to harmless proteins, the study said.
like severe allergies or epilepsy carry with them a stigma for people
who are running day cares or employing people," Updegraff said.
fair to say employers and day cares will allow their concerns about
somebody's condition to prevent them from treating that person fairly,
and giving them the same access to accommodations that everyone else is
Knudsen, through her attorney, declined to comment because the case is still pending.
attorney for Tiger Tots, John Jordan, said the center was disappointed
by the decision. He argued the appeals court re-wrote state law instead
of interpreting it.
Tiger Tots objected to Knudsen's requirement
that her child, in case of an allergic reaction, be transported by staff
just outside of city limits to meet an emergency medical helicopter for
evacuation, Jordan said.
The appeals court did not delve into the
details of the mother's request in deciding the overarching issue -
that the federal definition of a disability applies in Iowa.
Americans With Disabilities Act defines a disability as a physical or
mental impairment that "substantially limits one or more major life
activities." That definition was expanded in 2008 to include any
condition that is "episodic or in remission ... if it would substantially
limit a major life activity when active."
The appeals court said the lower court must now decide if the child's allergies limit major life activity.
between parents and child care centers over nut allergies have not
reached the Iowa Department of Human Resources, which enforces child
care center regulations, said DHS spokesman Roger Munns.
policy requires child care centers in Iowa comply with the Americans
With Disabilities Act. Centers must make "reasonable" modifications to
policies and procedures, unless doing so "would constitute a fundamental
alteration" to the center. Additional services are required for
children unless it is an undue burden, the policy states.
dissenting opinion, Judge Gayle Vogel said the child's allergy is not
protected by the Iowa Civil Rights Act because the Iowa Legislature has
not updated the state's disability rules to mirror federal protections.
She argued it is up to state lawmakers to decide whether to expand
disability protections to match those in the Americans With Disabilities
The Tiger Tots board of directors will make a decision
sometime next week on whether to appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court,
Jens Manuel Krogstad, The Des Moines Register