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

    Caption: When is celiac disease a disability under the ADA? Photo: CC--Donkeyhotey

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

    On 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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    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....

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    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....

    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. gluten-free 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.'

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    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 gluten-free products cost more than their non-gluten-free 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.

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    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.

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    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!

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    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.

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    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.

     

     

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    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....

    I'd be concerned that if restaurants are forced to charge the same price for gluten-free food as they do for non-gluten-free, they might stop serving gluten-free 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 gluten-free products (such as gluten-free 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!

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    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!

    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 gluten-free or offered as such in restaurants. Many restaurants don't have the space or extra equipment to be sure they are offering us gluten-free.

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    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....

    I had no problem with the Olive Garden in Reno, Nevada. They had a gluten-free menu when I went there with my sister's family in 2014.

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  • About Me

    Jefferson Adams 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 biology, anatomy, medicine, and science. He previously served as Health News Examiner for Examiner.com, and provided 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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