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U.S Department of Justice Says Celiac Disease Not a Disability in All Cases

Celiac.com 01/11/2016 - Is celiac disease a disability under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act? The Department of Justice says not necessarily.

Photo: CC--DonkeyhoteyOn the heels of a federal lawsuit that claiming that restaurants are violating federal disability laws by charging more for gluten-free food than for non-gluten-free counter parts, a Department of Justice spokesperson has stated that a 2012 civil rights settlement on behalf of Lesley University students with celiac disease does not make the condition a disability in all cases.

DOJ public affairs specialist, Patrick Rodenbush, said settlement at Leslie University did not set a legal precedent, because the "…settlement enforces the rights of students whose food allergies were disabilities, [but] it doesn't necessarily make celiac disease a disability in all cases."

This is relevant to a case in California, where federal judge recently denied a motion to dismiss a class action lawsuit alleging P.F. Chang's violates the Americans with Disabilities Act because it charges more for gluten-free items.

In the P.F. Chang's case, Judge Ronald Whyte denied P.F. Chang's motion to dismiss because, he wrote, that, although the court had not found specific information proving that celiac disease constituted a disability under the ADA, the "plaintiff has pled sufficient facts to support her claim that she has a disability that impacts a major life activity."

Whyte noted "on a more complete factual record, the court might reach a different conclusion." He also stated that it may be difficult, or impossible for Phillips to prove her claims.

"The ultimate question is whether P.F. Chang's, in providing gluten-free meals, is providing different products or whether the price differential with regular meals is a pretext for discrimination against those with celiac disease," Whyte wrote.

At stake is whether or not food vendors, such as P.F. Chang's can charge higher prices for gluten-free foods than they do for non-gluten-free items.

The results of this case are being watched closely by celiacs and by restaurant companies, because a ruling that establishes that people with celiac disease are covered under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act could conceivably have a serious impact on how the restaurant industry approaches gluten-free food.

Stay tuned for new developments.

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30 Responses:

 
Alice
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said this on
11 Jan 2016 1:50:41 PM PST
I would like receive information to help me to know what to eat.

 
Elaine
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said this on
20 Jan 2016 6:02:58 AM PST
Alice, a Registered Dietitian is an excellent source of nutrition information. An RD will instruct you in the gluten free diet choices. A gluten free diet individualized and tailored for you, will ensure you meet the missing nutrients from eliminating gluten from your diet.

 
Airie
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said this on
15 Jan 2016 12:18:02 PM PST
I just want restaurants to serve me. Once I mention I have Celiac Disease, I have been denied food at many restaurants including big chains like Cracker Barrel, Olive Garden, and Hard Rock. "Love all; Serve all"...apparently not....

 
Marne
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said this on
18 Jan 2016 3:08:15 AM PST
I agree -willing to pay a little extra if that is what it takes to be served fairly. Consider how much more we pay for e.g. GF pasta in the grocery store.
Personally, while I understand the frustrations that led to this lawsuit, I am concerned about the potential consequences if we 'win.'

 
Susan
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said this on
18 Jan 2016 6:50:53 PM PST
I had no problem with the Olive Garden in Reno, Nevada. They had a GF menu when I went there with my sister's family in 2014.

 
Laura
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said this on
18 Jan 2016 1:24:07 PM PST
I'd be concerned that if restaurants are forced to charge the same price for GF food as they do for non-GF, they might stop serving GF food. I have celiac and I'm sensitive to the fact that it's a form of discrimination to charge more; however, I also realize that it's more effort on the restaurant side, in terms of taking extra precautions against contamination, and GF products (such as GF bread or pasta) may cost them more. I'm happy to pay a little more to ensure that the kitchen is being careful with my meal. I don't feel like I have a disability; people with severe anaphylactic-type allergies are in the same situation as those with celiac. I appreciate when the restaurant management comes over to me to ensure me that my food was prepared with the utmost care--that's worth paying extra for, to ensure I won't get sick!

 
dappy
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said this on
23 Jan 2016 7:00:17 AM PST
Except that, behind kitchen doors, they are not as careful as they would like to portray. Preparers, in many cases, just use the same work surfaces, pans, etc.

 
Marie
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said this on
30 May 2016 9:33:18 PM PST
This is really true. I do not eat in restaurants anymore because I got very ill eating in a restaurant that proclaimed they made GF pizza in a different area in the same restaurant.

 
Judie
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said this on
20 Jan 2016 6:56:06 AM PST
I have eaten at Olive Garden and told them I have celiac and have never been denied. They have told me and it is written on their GF menu that there are shared facilities and they cannot guarantee me that it will be completely GF. It is up to me to decide if I want too eat there. They have been very accommodating every time and I will return.

 
LindaR
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said this on
18 Jan 2016 5:30:17 AM PST
This lawsuit is ridiculous and a waste of time and money. I have had celiac for so long that if I found one loaf of gluten free bread and plain rice flour I was lucky-let alone trying to eat in a restaurant. Is she going of sue grocery stores because most GF products cost more than their non-GF counterparts? Don't speak for me in this craziness - I will gladly pay a few extra dollars to get a gluten free meal and be happy to do it.

 
Laura
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said this on
18 Jan 2016 7:37:07 AM PST
Charging more is not my issue. Making sure the food is prepared safely and not cross-contaminated is!!

 
dappy
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said this on
23 Jan 2016 7:05:16 AM PST
Yep. And most just present themselves as doing that when they actually do not.

 
Mar
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said this on
18 Jan 2016 7:39:56 AM PST
I'm just thankful that ANY restaurants are willing to tackle offering safe gluten free food. Many of us remember not too very long ago when NO restaurants offered gluten free items and NO restaurant staff knew what you were talking about. It's important for those of us with Celiac/gluten intolerance/gluten sensitivity to remember that no restaurant MUST keep gluten free food on their menu. We must be gracious while still working to make sure that restaurants understand how to offer safe gluten free options. When we become indignant and too demanding about it, more restaurants are just as likely to abandon catering to people with dietary "needs". Remember that businesses like restaurants are manned by people earning a living and that they are not some human-free entity that owes us what we personally deem to be important. There are so many different food allergies and intolerances out there. GFer's do best not to expect entitlement, but instead let establishments know that we appreciate when they make a choice to cater to the gluten free crowd. Eating out is a privilege, not a right. If it costs more than I want to pay, I can make the choice not to go to that particular restaurant...simple.

 
Luann
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said this on
18 Jan 2016 9:26:49 AM PST
If people like this woman continue stupid lawsuits, we will go back to no gluten free items on a menu. I am THRILLED how far restaurants have come. Please don't blow this for us!

 
SandyM
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said this on
18 Jan 2016 4:52:06 PM PST
I couldn't agree more! I've had celiac disease since 1989 and lawsuits will only put us back to that time when nothing was labeled GF or offered as such in restaurants. Many restaurants don't have the space or extra equipment to be sure they are offering us GF.

 
dappy
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said this on
23 Jan 2016 7:03:23 AM PST
Then what safety to your health are they actually providing with their food? None. And if you end up sick, will you continue to go back there ??

 
Marie
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said this on
30 May 2016 9:29:03 PM PST
This is not a "stupid" lawsuit. It is clear that restaurants cannot charge more to a person for having a disease that limits him or her in the eating area (that is a disability, folks). If the lawyer that was defending P. F. Chang was better paid than the plaintiff´s lawyer or if there were vested interests behind this lawsuit, that was another issue.

 
Stva
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said this on
18 Jan 2016 10:08:32 AM PST
I have celiac disease and I don't think it's a disability. I consider it more of an inconvenience. I am very willing to pay more for a gluten free meal at a restaurant if that ensures I get a meal that isn't contaminated. (And I think PF Changes does gluten free very well - never had any issues.) Eating out isn't a necessity; I (and the plaintiff in this case) can always buy food at the grocery and eat at home. I am afraid that if the court rules in this moron's favor it may signal the end of gluten free meals at restaurants for everyone.

 
G. Harrison
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said this on
18 Jan 2016 12:53:28 PM PST
I agree with the other comments regarding these lawsuits. It is mind boggling to a Canadian that someone would waste the court's time with this kind of lawsuit. What is the anticipated outcome? If gluten free food costs more to buy, it will cost more to make a meal at home OR at a restaurant. Force the restaurant to charge the same price, and you're going to get substandard quality ingredients in your gluten free meal.

I've seen prices come down since I was diagnosed, but that was from the increase in people looking for gluten free options. Increased demand = increased supply and more competition. If this lady had waited, it is likely that many restaurants would choose on their own to charge less if they knew they could increase their customers. But now, they are likely to view all celiacs as trouble.


 
L Stevens
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said this on
19 Jan 2016 12:41:32 AM PST
There's a bigger issue here: namely whether restaurants will refuse to carry GF food at all.

Our country (US) gives huge subsidies to Wheat and Corn industries. As a result, it's been cheaper to use wheat as a filler than other potential grains (like rice). If rice costs more because of the our historically-predominant use of wheat then why wouldn't a restaurant or supplier be free to charge more? But, more importantly, why would we, as celiacs, want to discourage restaurants from carrying alternatives for us because we insist they eat the profit loss? Sure I'd like things to change so that wheat isn't the most cost-effective filer to use. But given that isn't the case now, do we really want to lose any options at restaurants?

 
Erogo
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said this on
19 Jan 2016 2:29:37 AM PST
I have a extreme sensitivity myself, to the point of it being disabling for a few days from crumbs/residue. Restaurants have been a no go for years, aside from this one sushi place where I know the chef. Most of the time I just bring my own foods in mention I have celiac disease and a corn allergy, then order a beverage. Only do this when I am meeting with others or want to feel "Normal" and eat out. Eating out is a option, if you do not like, trust, or find where you are going to be overly expensive, but must eat out. Bring your own food and order whats safe with no price difference like steamed broccoli and a drink.

 
Nola
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said this on
24 Mar 2016 5:49:18 PM PST
I have the same issue as you do. I have reactions to corn also, so GF doesn't mean all safe for me. On that note, I have been places that tried to refuse me when I brought my own food. This I felt was the discrimination. Bowling alley, movie theatre, comedy club, ect. I was willing to pay for entrance, but was forced to go out to my car to eat, if I needed to.

 
Pippy
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said this on
19 Jan 2016 6:03:36 AM PST
I have mixed feeling about this whole thing. The restaurants are charging more for the product at the get go, because it costs more for. They also have doors widened for wheel chairs, push buttons for easy access, wider isles, larger restrooms, and they build ramps for people to make it possible to get to and fro.

So why not accommodate celiacs? Is or isn't it a disability? Why are we comparing disabilities? Where do we draw the line? The overall cost of accommodations is distributed all over. Making it possible for everyone to eat out is what this person is trying to change. Having any disability is going to cost more, but who should pay?

If you are on disability, and require a wheel chair, who pays for that, and how about the big van that holds the wheel chair, and all the meds one needs to take?

It is hard to be sick; we all know that. it is hard and expensive to live with this disease/disability. They first have to establish whether it is a disability or not.

I have more questions then answers. I sure would love to be a fly on the wall in this case.

Thanks for the update Jefferson, I look forward to reading more as it comes to fruition.

BTW, for the folks doing some name calling, it is just uncalled for. The person filing this lawsuit might be saving your ass. Rosa Parks was called a few names too, but look what she did! I hope this wins, really.

She and I, and anyone who thinks differently, are not, "morons" or "stupid". This person who filed is brave and courageous. Imagine for a second how hard it had to have been for this young college student. We could stand beside her and support her; it could help everyone with disabilities.

Change is hard, it is scary, but I am glad she is standing up for what she believes in!

 
Emma
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said this on
20 Jan 2016 7:05:53 PM PST
Please remember the American with Disabilities Act requires only a reasonable accommodations. If you're an electrician and require a wheelchair is the person's employer going to purchase a lift so the person can reach any elevated lines? The answer is no. Pippy if a person is on disability and requires a wheelchair and van the answer to the question is if you're lucky & have excellent medical insurance they may pay for an electric wheelchair, but under no circumstances will they ever pay for a van or even a small trailer to place the wheelchair on for travel. All the meds a person must take are either paid for by your insurance company with you paying your copay, or you beg the manufacturer of available medications to see if they'll give them to you for free. To obtain assistance you must then jump through every hoop they create& many doctors don't want to deal with all the paperwork so they refuse to assist. That leaves one the option of doing without, or begging a Dr to prescribe a different medication.
I believe the court is going to have to decide is it reasonable for the restaurant to absorb the extra cost of paying for the raw food product, staff education, any supplies needed to make sure no contamination to occur, etc. I think what is ultimately going to happen is the market will be flooded with gluten free raw products decreasing the overall raw product cost. The education and awareness whether accurate, or not has been provided by celebrities leaving the cost of enforcing keeping items separate so there's no cross contamination which for some items may cost specific equipment and I don't see the court stating it's reasonable for the restaurant to bear the cost of additional equipment. Thankfully a brilliant individual created reusable bags that can be used in a toaster, or toaster oven, but I don't see the court mandating purchasing commercial grills, etc.

 
H Wegemer
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said this on
16 Feb 2016 6:26:43 PM PST
What most people are missing is that, per the Department of Justice, almost no condition is necessarily a disability. Disability-ness is based on how it affects a person, now what a person's diagnosis is. A disability is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity, such as eating. Thus, people whose intestines are destroyed by gluten so that they cannot effectively digest food are probably disabled; those who eat gluten-free because they just generally feel better that way are not.
The major implication that most people seem to be missing is that, if the courts rule that restaurants cannot charge more for gluten-free food because it constitutes discrimination against a person with a disability, it ALSO means that no restaurant can discriminate against people with a disability by refusing to provide food that is safe for them to eat.
I am honestly surprised the PF Chang's is arguing the disability-ness of celiac disease rather than the "undue hardship" aspect, where businesses do not have to accommodate if it would change the fundamental nature of their business.

 
rhisun
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said this on
19 Jan 2016 10:42:56 AM PST
I have celiac disease and still don't trust "gluten free" menus at restaurants. I absolutely expect to pay more for a truly gluten free option. It is an expensive endeavor to serve gluten free at home with separate utensils, toasters, etc. Can you imagine the nightmare for one restaurant?

 
dappy
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said this on
23 Jan 2016 7:11:09 AM PST
This is true - however - if you have ever had the opportunity to look into a restaurant kitchen, you would find that most do nothing about "where" the GF food is prepared. They may use a different product for your meal, but all else remains the same. Cross-contamination, in most cases, is just inevitable.

 
judy
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said this on
20 Jan 2016 5:32:10 AM PST
A lot of food for thought on both sides. It is frustrating to pay a lot more for GF products, however, with the GF food items purchased at the grocery store, these can be claimed on your taxes at the end of the year. I have celiac disease, and, yes it's hard to go out to eat, however, it could be a whole lot worse.

 
Dawn
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said this on
20 Jan 2016 8:30:30 AM PST
We are paying more and still getting cross-contaminated. When you pay more at a restaurant, who is getting the money? Not the kitchen staff. Not the wait staff. You pay more for gluten-free items because that is what they charge, but you have no idea what they paid. If a bag of flour costs $5 extra, and it makes 20 dishes, that "little bit extra" you're paying just netted that corporation 150% profit. I wonder if you would find it reasonable if the restaurant charged $1 extra to sit at a handicap-accessible table, or use the wheelchair ramp? I eat at several local restaurants that provide gluten-free at no extra cost. If a small business can afford to provide gluten-free food, why is a corporate-owned business charging so much?

 
Marie
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said this on
30 May 2016 9:39:09 PM PST
I am very surprised at the people in this forum who do not see the need to defend themselves when there are things that have not been well litigated at the courts. You do have a disability folks, no doubt according to ADA definition. How according to the ADA definition we fall under the category of disability and under the "Justice" Department we do not? Don't you see there is something wrong here? Please, open your eyes.




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