Lactose Intolerant Customers Suing Dunkin’ Donuts Because Charging Extra for Milk Alternatives Is ‘Discriminatory’

By: Riley Brown | Published: Jan 28, 2024

From stomachaches to uncontrollably itchy hives, lactose intolerance has caused some pretty serious issues for a lot of people. Now, there’s a new issue on the horizon — the $1 add-on charge for milk substitutions. 

Several Dunkin’ customers who are lactose intolerant have banded together to launch a class action against the chain, claiming discrimination and higher prices. Here’s what we know. 

What Do We Know About the Logistics of the Lawsuit?

At the time of this publication, FOX 26 reports 10 plaintiffs have joined the class action — and all of them allegedly have been impacted by the increased alternative milk fees. 

A woman with a stomach ache is covered by overlays of milks with dollar signs on them.

Source: Canva

The class action covers dates beginning in 2018 to present day. The current accusation that the class action is petitioning the court for is on the basis of discrimination. 

How Much Is the Dunkin’ Class Action Lawsuit Worth? And How Are Alternative Milk Charges Discriminatory?

The Dunkin’ class action lawsuit is currently worth $5 million dollars, and built on claims of discrimination due to higher pricing for alternative milks.

A still of the Dunkin’ shop is shown.

Source: KTVB/YouTube

The primary argument, according to MSN, is that those living with lactose intolerance or related conditions have no control over their medical constitution. And that they shouldn’t be charged more for modifying the product to be safe for their consumption.

How Expensive Are Milk Fees, Anyway?

On average, plant-based milk costs about $7.87 per gallon in the grocery store. This is slightly more expensive than the average $4.21 per gallon of cow’s milk. 

YouTubers take to the internet to talk about fees. A short-form video overlays a thumbnail of the video content, in which an influencer discusses fees.

Source: RCAM/YouTube

Per the class action documentation, Dunkin’ attempted to recount these fees, charging between $0.10-$2.15 per client to make up for the non-dairy milk costs 

Not Just Coffee

These charges weren’t exclusive to coffee, instead extending toward everything lactose intolerant customers ordered. 

Dunkin’ cups holding coffee, frozen coffee, and tea are shown.

Source: Wikimedia Commons/Canva

Orders that were affected by these surcharges for plant-based milks included teas, coffees, and alternative drinks — and alternative milks provided were popular non-dairy options (such as almond, coconut, soy, and oat).

Does This Class Action Have Legs to Stand On?

While this question is subjective, MSN posits both sides of the argument: While it’s medically necessary for the plaintiffs to drink milk, the business will incur higher costs by providing the milk alternatives for free.

A stomachache (left) is shown alongside a woman ordering coffee.

Source: Canva

How? Many who are not intolerant prefer the taste and feel of different milks, and may see the lack of surcharge as an opportunity to consume more.


How Necessary Are Alternative Milks for Lactose Intolerant Folks, Really?

While many might see lactose intolerance as an inconvenience, it can be debilitating if milk sneaks in. Common symptoms associated with the condition include vomiting and inflammation, as well as others. 

Allergic reactions, such as hives (left) and vomiting (right) are shown. Poop emojis are in the middle.

Source: Canva

Others can include stomach pain, bowel irregularities, bloating, and hives. This would cause more than a simple inconvenience to many, instead impacting one’s quality of life.


An Evaluation: “But What about the Other Folks?”

While the original argument states that providing alternative milks could cost a company more, the lawsuit points out that other medically necessary changes are made for free each day. 

Sugar free and decaf signs are shown pointing at a cup of coffee against a yellow background

Source: Canva

Specifically named changes include making caffeine-free drinks vs. caffeine-full drinks for those with hypertension or heart conditions. Additionally, swaps between sugar and sugar-free syrups were called out for those with diabetes.


An Explanation: The Mysterious Defendant Surcharge

MSN highlights a portion of the class action that many have taken pause with, stating that there “isn’t a distinction among the costs of various different non-dairy alternatives.”

A YouTube thumbnail calls out the differences in Dunkin’s pricing for those that need it, stating “extra charge, extra caffeine, 20% more caffeine!!”

Source: MustOrBust/YouTube

MSN goes on to quote the suit, stating that, “Dunkin created a separate, higher-priced menu, aimed at customers who cannot ingest milk.”


Disability or Not a Disability? Will the Courts Decide?

The class action asserted that those living with lactose and milk allergies and intolerances are experiencing a true disability.

A YouTube thumbnail stating “Understanding the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)” is shown against a blue background.

Source: DisabilityRightsArkansas/YouTube

As a result, lawyers arguing on the plaintiff’s behalf are attempting to build their argument on the belief that Dunkin’ has “violat[ed] the Americans with Disabilities Act,” per MSN. This argument could give them the basis for discrimination.


What Else Do We Know about the Lawsuit?

The plaintiffs are also attempting to find both injunctive and declaratory relief, ensuring that Dunkin’, the defendant, cannot continue to charge lactose intolerant customers going forward.

Alternative milks are shown with the “no” sign over them, and a stack of 100 dollar bills.

Source: Canva

This proposed bar on costs would be associated with all non-dairy alternatives, including lactose-free milk, soy, almond, coconut, and oat.


Has This Happened to Any Other Coffee Chain?

MSN notes that coffee giant Starbucks has also had similar complaints, starting in 2020 with their alternative milk “tax.” This tax would mean an additional fee for anyone looking for alt milks for ethical or medical reasons. 

A YouTube thumbnail reads “Free Vegan Milk?” with a Starbucks cup shown.

Source: LiveKindly/YouTube

PETA and vegans led the charge to remove this, and the chain did — across Europe — but not in the United States.