Are Coffee Shops Discriminating Against Lactose-Intolerant Customers with High Non-Dairy Creamer Prices?

As the popularity of coffee shops continues to rise, so does the demand for non-dairy creamers. However, many customers have noticed a significant price difference between regular dairy creamers and their non-dairy counterparts. This has led to questions about whether coffee shops are discriminating against lactose-intolerant customers by charging more for non-dairy creamers. Could this potentially be a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)? Let’s delve into this issue.

Understanding Lactose Intolerance

Lactose intolerance is a common digestive disorder where the body is unable to fully digest lactose, a sugar found in milk and dairy products. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and can include bloating, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, about 30 to 50 million Americans are lactose intolerant.

The Price Difference

Many coffee shops charge an additional fee for non-dairy creamers, which can range from 50 cents to a dollar more than regular dairy creamers. This price difference can add up over time, especially for regular coffee drinkers. The reason for this price difference is often attributed to the higher cost of producing and sourcing non-dairy creamers.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life. However, lactose intolerance is typically not considered a disability under the ADA. According to the ADA National Network, a disability is defined as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. While lactose intolerance can cause discomfort and inconvenience, it does not typically limit major life activities to the extent required to be considered a disability under the ADA.

Is There Discrimination?

While it’s understandable that lactose-intolerant customers may feel unfairly treated due to the higher prices of non-dairy creamers, it’s important to note that price discrimination is not the same as unlawful discrimination. Unlawful discrimination typically involves treating someone less favorably because of their race, sex, disability, or other protected characteristic. Charging more for a product that costs more to produce or source is a common business practice and is not generally considered discriminatory.


While the higher prices of non-dairy creamers can be frustrating for lactose-intolerant customers, it’s unlikely that this practice would be considered a violation of the ADA. However, as the demand for non-dairy alternatives continues to grow, it’s possible that we may see a decrease in the price difference between dairy and non-dairy creamers in the future.