NORFOLK, Va. (WVEC) -- A couple from Maryland is suing the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, claiming that Colonial Williamsburg excluded their 11-year-old son from an activity during a class trip because of his disability.
The lawsuit, filed on Wednesday on behalf of the family by Stein & Vargas, identifies the boy as "J.D."
The suit says that the boy visited Colonial Williamsburg in May after five years of fundraising and after the class spent a full year learning about Colonial America.
The paperwork states that a highlight of the trip was a visit to Shields Tavern where children got to experience social and cultural life in the British colony. Part of the visit to the tavern included eating a meal, which was where the problem began:
Because of a severe autoimmune disorder, J.D. is unable to safely consume food containing gluten. When he ingests gluten, he experiences side effects including loss of consciousness, difficulty concentrating, asthma flares, and pain. As a result, although J.D. was a paid participant in the educational tour, J.D. was not able to eat the food that was served. J.D. was excited simply to soak in the experience even though he could not eat the food. His father who was a chaperone on the trip brought food that was safe for J.D. to eat. After J.D. was seated at a table with his class, management learned that he could not eat their food because of his disability and told the eleven year old that if he was going to eat his food, he needed to leave immediately. Although his father and his teacher both attempted to reason with management, J.D. was made to leave the facility with his father and eat outside in the rain while his classmates remained inside.
The lawsuit contends that the unwillingness to accommodate J.D. violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.
"My son was making strides in feeling comfortable with the fact that he is different because of his inability to eat any food that has the potential of cross contamination with gluten. This changed with the irrational actions made by Shields Tavern," said J.D.'s father. "He was happy to experience Shields Tavern with his friends, now he is uncomfortable eating anything outside of the home because of the embarrassment inflicted upon him. Colonial Williamsburg used J.D.'s disability to humiliate and exclude J.D. in front of his peers, making him sit out in the rain as if he weren't even worth of the opportunity to learn."
Mary Vargas of Stein & Vargas said, "Children with disabilities that require strict adherence to special diets often find themselves on the outside of school parties and social events, but here this child was quite literally removed to the outside in a way that left him feeling humiliated and unworthy." Vargas added, "This is despicable behavior by any adult but especially by an organization that professes to offer educational programming for children."
13News Now reached out to Colonial Williamsburg for comment. Public Relations Manager Joseph Straw said no one at the foundation had seen the suit and that it does not comment on pending litigation.