Dunkin' faces potential class-action lawsuit for alleged discriminatory upcharge on nondairy milks

ByKelly McCarthy ABCNews logo
Thursday, January 25, 2024
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Lactose intolerant coffee drinkers who opt for nondairy alternatives like soy, almond or oat milk in their drinks at Dunkin' may pay as much as $2 more for the alternatives, which a new potential class-action lawsuit claims could constitute discrimination.

The suit, filed last month in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, seeks class certification and represents 10 Dunkin' customers who say they purchased beverages "that contained non-dairy milk alternatives" between 2018 and 2023, and "paid a surcharge" for either "plant-based or lactose-free milk" in California, New York, Texas, Colorado, Massachusetts and Hawaii.

According to legal documents obtained by ABC News, the plaintiffs named in the suit all suffer from lactose intolerance and milk allergies, making it medically necessary "to avoid consuming drinks that contain milk."

Depending on the date and location, the customers were charged anywhere from 50 cents to $2.15 extra for the substitution, the filing states.

An exterior view of the Dunkin' Donuts restaurant in Muncy, Pennsylvania, June 10, 2023.
Paul Weaver/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The lawsuit seeks damages amounting to no less than $5,000,000, and plaintiffs demanded a jury trial.

On Friday, Dunkin' filed a waiver that acknowledged the lawsuit. The company has until March 4 to respond.

The lawsuit specifically points to the "allergen statement" displayed in Dunkin' stores that advises customers to inform a barista if they have a food allergy before placing an order.

"Dunkin will modify its regular beverage offerings to remove sugar or use sugar-free sweeteners at no additional charge for those persons with diabetes or who need to control weight," the lawsuit states. "However, they only accommodate those with lactose intolerance or allergies to milk by imposing a surcharge. There is no expertise or additional work required of Dunkin employees that would substitute whole milk or fat-free milk in place of 2% regular milk, or who would make caffeine-free or sugar-free beverages, to also be able to substitute Non-Dairy Alternatives such as soy, almond, coconut, oat, or other lactose-free 'milk' in place of 2% regular milk."

The lawsuit claims that because lactose intolerance and milk allergies are both considered disabilities, Dunkin's "conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act," as well as state anti-discrimination laws where the respective customers purchased their beverages.

The ADA states that public entities are required to make "reasonable modifications" to policies or practices when it's necessary for an individual with a disability to afford their goods, services, facilities, privileges or advantages.

As cited in the lawsuit, the ADA also states that "a public accommodation may not impose a surcharge on a particular individual with a disability or any group of individuals with disabilities to cover the costs of measures, such as the provision of auxiliary aids, barrier removal, alternatives to barrier removal, and reasonable modifications in policies, practices, or procedures, that are required to provide that individual or group with the nondiscriminatory treatment required by the Act or this part."

In this case, plaintiffs claimed Dunkin' violated the ADA due to the failure "to make modifications that are necessary to afford goods and services to persons with lactose intolerance but instead imposes a surcharge on this group, purportedly to cover the cost of such measures."

Dunkin' did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment on the lawsuit. The Massachusetts-based coffee chain has not yet issued a public statement on the matter.