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  • Jefferson Adams
    Jefferson Adams

    Did Pizza Hut Discriminate Against Mom and Celiac Son?

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    Celiac.com 01/20/2012 - Candi Smithson says her 2-year-old son, Preston, has severe allergies that present him from eating certain breads and dairy items, among other things. Celiac disease prevents Preston from eating anything containing gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley.

    Pizza HutPreston also is allergic to certain milk proteins, making things like butter and other dairy products hazardous to his health.

    Smithson claims that the local pizza Hut in Muskogee, Oklahoma discriminated against her by asking her and her son to leave the restaurant. Smithson told reporters that she was in Muskogee as part of a home-schooling group to see replicas of the Niña and Pinta ships, which had been cruising the Arkansas River in recent weeks. Smithson, another parent and four children, including Preston, stopped at Pizza Hut to have lunch.

    Smithson told reporters from NewsOk.com that, before going into Pizza Hut, she had first stopped at McDonald's to get Preston a hamburger without the bun, and some french fries, which is safe for Preston to eat.

    She brought that food with her into Pizza Hut, where she planned to order pizza for the other kids. But before the group could place an order, Smithson said a waitress told her that she could not be in the store with the McDonald's items.

    Smithson told reporters that she explained the situation, but that the waitress remained unmoved.

    “I explained why I was bringing in the food, but she said it didn't matter,” Smithson said. Smithson then asked to speak to the manager. She says that the manager, who was reportedly unavailable for comment, was also unsympathetic to the situation.

    According to Smithson, the manager basically said, "We can't have this food in here, so we're going to have to ask you to leave,'” Smithson said. “I was really shocked ... we bring food into restaurants all the time, and this has never happened before.”

    Smithson told reporters that Pizza Hut had no signs indicating a no-outside-food policy, and added that the restaurant lost out on five paying customers by demanding the hamburger and fries be discarded.

    Indeed, a Pizza Hut official, who spoke to reporters on the condition he remain unnamed, says he knows of no company policies that would prevent paying customers from eating outside food in a Pizza Hut restaurant.

    According to reporters, calls to Pizza Hut's corporate offices seeking comment on this story went unreturned.

    Smithson says the actions of the Pizza Hut manager violated her son's rights as a person living with a disability. She claims food allergies that interfere with “major life activities” are considered disabilities.

    Marca Bristo, who helped craft the original Americans with Disabilities Act during the late 1980s, agrees with Smithson. Bristo served as chairman of the National Council on Disability, a position she was appointed to by former President Bill Clinton.

    Bristo said the Americans with Disabilities Act, enacted in 1990, was amended in 2008 to broaden what are considered “major life activities.” She said the changes were necessary because “the courts had narrowed the definition of the law” up to that point.

    Eating is listed as major life activity in the amended act, which went into effect Jan. 1, 2009.

    When asked about Candi Smithson's ordeal, Birsto said, “I do think she is right to challenge this." There are some ambiguities in the law, but, basically, Bristo says, "…if a food allergy affects life activities, it's got to be considered a disability and should fall under the act.”

    Still, Smithson insists she's not looking for money. “I just want the policies changed,” she told reporters. “That way, when he gets older, he won't have to deal with things like this.”

    Has anything like this happened to you or anyone you know?  Should restaurants be flexible when paying customers need to bring in outside food for reasons concerning allergies or food sensitivities? Let us know your thoughts.

    The story was originally reported by NewsOk.com.

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    She is oblivious to the fact that the burger and French fries both contain gluten. It even states that on the McDonald's website! She should really research what her son can safely eat!

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    Did they bother to check with the health department. You can't bring food into any eating establishments in Michigan. I tend to bring in disposable packages of dressing BUT I never bring in food nor do I expect them to allow it.

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    Pizza Hut was wrong to kick the woman and her son out, under the circumstances. I have celiac and I'm allergic to corn and sulfites. I have taken my own foods from home, into some restaurants. I was never told to leave, and was treated with kindness and respect by the staff. Pizza Hut should be ashamed of the treatment given to those people, by their employees.

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    I have been diagnosed as gluten sensitive plus numerous other food sensitives. It is extremely hard to safely eat in restaurants. I feel bringing outside food into a restaurant should definitely be allowed as we are very limited in our choices. I am a paying customer as I always order something, plus my husband also eats a normal meal, so can't imagine why we should be told to leave. I would love to eat normally like other people do, but unfortunately that is impossible. I am proud of the young mother standing up for her sons rights to be somewhat normal. Go Mom!

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    As a celiac, I absolutely agree with Smithson's actions. There have been instances where it was necessary for me to bring my own food while dining with others. I have two siblings who also have celiac disease and travel extensively with their jobs. If a restaurant cannot accommodate them during a business meeting or function, what are they to do?

     

    My son has type I diabetes and must carry a sport sack with his glucose meter, emergency glucagon kit, and snacks. When we enter theme parks or sporting events, and his bag is searched, we are exempted from the "no outside food" rule because he must always have a source of carbohydrate on hand to treat low blood sugar. It's really not any different for those with food allergies - one must eat. Period.

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    You should ABSOLUTELY be allowed to; that was very inconsiderate and insensitive for them to do that!! If they can't offer something other than gluten and dairy then they need to make exceptions. Shame on them!!

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    This has happened to me several times. The restaurants say it has to do with food safety codes. They don't want to be liable if someone get sick eating someone else's food in their establishment. Seems like quite a stretch to me and it is very frustrating. I think it is also to prevent people from abusing it and bringing in outside food and not paying for food there, since they still have to pay the rent and utilities on the facility and it would take up a seat of a paying customer.

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    This is not the case in which these people were bringing their food from another restaurant to eat it at Pizza Hut Restaurant, this was one child form a group of people and the mother explained to the waitress why she was bringing his food in. If pizza Hut made hamburgers without feelers I can see why they did not like somebody bringing in a hamburger from another place. I think it is better for Pizza Hut's business to let the child eat his hamburger with the group who are getting Pizza Hut pizza. Just by reading this, I think their judgment was out of place and bad for business, I certainly will not be visiting a Pizza Hut unless they change this stupid attitude.

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  • About Me

    Jefferson Adams is Celiac.com's senior writer and Digital Content Director. He earned his B.A. and M.F.A. at Arizona State University, and has authored more than 2,000 articles on celiac disease. His coursework includes studies in science, scientific methodology, biology, anatomy, medicine, logic, and advanced research. He previously served as SF Health News Examiner for Examiner.com, and devised health and medical content for Sharecare.com. Jefferson has spoken about celiac disease to the media, including an appearance on the KQED radio show Forum, and is the editor of the book "Cereal Killers" by Scott Adams and Ron Hoggan, Ed.D.

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