WASHINGTON, D.C. (CN) - Amtrak's policy of not letting children with food allergies use its services without an adult discriminates against the disabled, a family claims in Federal Court.
Karen Joseph, of Dearborn, Mich., filed the case Thursday on behalf of her 13-year old son, N.J., described as "a teenager with diabetes, celiac disease, and a peanut allergy."
Amtrak allegedly enforced its discriminatory policy against the Josephs this past summer when N.J. and his 16-year-old brother tried to take an Amtrak train to visit their grandmother in Dearborn.
Amtrak's unaccompanied-minor policy "welcomes teens between the ages of 13 and 16 to travel either alone or with an older sibling or friend," the complaint states. "However, the unaccompanied minors' [sic] policy explicitly prohibits and precludes food allergic teens from using their services."
N.J.'s mother said disclosed her child's food allergy after calling to book the tickets for her sons and speaking with an Amtrak representative named Angeline.
After consulting with her manager, Vanessa, Angeline allegedly "informed Mrs. Joseph that because of N.J's 'life threatening food allergy,' Amtrak would not allow him to travel by train."
Angeline refused to put either Vanessa or another manager on the line, saying "there was no point in her doing so because she herself had just spoken with a manager," according to the complaint.
"As the result of Amtrak's refusal to allow N.J. to travel without an adult, N.J. and his brother were not able and remain unable to travel via train to visit their grandmother and consequently were not and are not able to spend time alone with their grandmother," the complaint states.
Claiming that N.J. is mature enough to travel without an adult, Joseph says he "is able to carry and administer an epinephrine auto injector" and "knows the signs and symptoms of allergic reaction and anaphylaxis."
Indeed N.J. has "eleven years' experience in keeping himself safe," the complaint states. "When he goes out with friends or travels, he brings food from home that he knows is safe for him to eat," Joseph added.
She says her older son B.J. also "knows the signs and symptoms of allergic reaction and anaphylaxis and has been trained in the proper use of an auto injector."
"B.J. is vigilant and protective of his younger brother and is prepared to administer the auto injector in the event of an allergic reaction," the complaint states.
The Josephs say Amtrak's unaccompanied-minors policy "remains in full force and effect and prohibits N.J. from accessing Amtrak's programs, activities and services that are available to all other teenagers."
"Amtrak does not exclude teens with any other medical condition from traveling" on their trains, the complaint also states.
Amtrak has declined to comment on the lawsuit.
The family seeks damages for violations of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. They are represented by Mary Vargas with Stein and Vargas of Fredrick, Md.