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  • Jefferson Adams
    Jefferson Adams

    P.F. Chang's Dodges Lawsuit Over Gluten-Free Surcharge

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    Celiac.com 5/23/2016 - Plenty of people have followed the news of the woman who sued Chinese food chain P.F. Chang's, claiming that they discriminated against her by charging more for gluten-free dishes than for other non-gluten-free options.

    Celiac.com covered P.F. Chang's efforts to have the suit dismissed, and also P.F. Chang's failure to prevent the woman from modifying the lawsuit, thus keeping it viable, if only for a time.

    U.S. District Judge Ronald Whyte, of the Northern District of California, had dismissed the original complaint in August, but reinstated the suit once plaintiff Anna Marie Phillips amended her complaint. On Nov. 23, 2015, Whyte ruled that Phillips had sufficiently pleaded her claims in that amended complaint.

    Many in the restaurant industry were watching the suit carefully since it was first filed in December 2014, as the claim of discrimination, based on higher charges for gluten-free items at P.F. Chang's, could have serious repercussions for the industry as a whole.

    Phillips has now asked the judge to dismiss her lawsuit.

    At least for now, the question to whether surcharges or higher charges for gluten-free food options constitute some form of discrimination against those with celiac disease or gluten-intolerance, remains un-litigated.

    The position of the Department of Justice is that celiac disease is not a disability in every case, and that there are plenty of cases in which it is not a disability.

    Read more at Legal News Line.


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    gluten-free eaters who want options should welcome reasonable charges for gluten-free food in restaurants. True gluten-free preparation requires significant resources in a restaurant kitchen. To say nothing of potential liability in case of cross contamination. If they aren't allowed to recoup their costs, gluten-free options will quite reasonably decrease. P.F. Chang's has wonderful gluten-free choices and we should support them, not sue them.

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    As someone who dramatically reacts to gluten, food costs whatever people want to charge for it. Gluten-free food is more expensive to make, so it makes sense that those costs would be passed down to the consumer. I'm just glad we have any gluten-free options at all in restaurants.

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    Did the menu price mislead the customer? Did the restaurant tack on an additional charge after ordering? If not, then the customer chose to pay the price for a gluten-free meal. There are extra costs incurred by restaurants like PF Chang's to assure food safety, and as those with celiac disease know, the ingredients are more expensive in general. I applaud restaurants for going the extra mile to provide certified gluten-free menus. I do disagree with the DOJ statement that celiac disease is not always a disability. It is a disability, but it can be managed through strict adherence to a gluten-free diet.

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    Did the menu price mislead the customer? Did the restaurant tack on an additional charge after ordering? If not, then the customer chose to pay the price for a gluten-free meal. There are extra costs incurred by restaurants like PF Chang's to assure food safety, and as those with celiac disease know, the ingredients are more expensive in general. I applaud restaurants for going the extra mile to provide certified gluten-free menus. I do disagree with the DOJ statement that celiac disease is not always a disability. It is a disability, but it can be managed through strict adherence to a gluten-free diet.

    This person knows what they are talking about celiac disease, it's a disability. What are the gluten-free foods they're using in place of the non gluten-free foods to charge extra money? What like rice/corn flour, gluten-free soy sauce which can be used in non gluten-free foods as well. Most same restaurants use cornstarch in their foods. All the non gluten-free items can be used in all their foods, the taste is not very different. It's Just another way to cheat a customer. Their food needs quite a bit of improvement whether it be gluten-free or non gluten-free.

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    Sandy, the term "disability" has a specific definition when used in most legal contexts, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act: "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more 'major life activities'" or a history or perception of such impairment. Celiac disease does not substantially limit eating, even though it does limit what one can eat. I'm not aware of any successful litigation to require a restaurant to serve particular kinds of food to meet someone's dietary limitations, even though some of them could well reach the legal definition of "disability"--the son of a friend of mine can only eat about 4 foods due to severe multiple food allergies. Restaurants do, of course, need to be accessible to those with mobility impairments and the like.

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    The policy of charging more is quite reasonable given the additional ingredient cost and effort the restaurant incurs in preparing the gluten free meals, including maintaining a gluten free prep area. As a long time Celiac sufferer I remember when restaurants did not make this accommodation and this ill conceived lawsuit may cause restaurants to choose not to accommodate us. I enjoy the food at PF Changs and I appreciate that they are one of the few chains that have made a genuine effort to reach out to us enabling me to eat out with my family. This could cause more restaurant chains to put a disclaimer on their menu about all allergens and not bother to accommodate any allergies. If this person does not relent in their attack of PF Changs perhaps we can start a go fund me site to help them afford the extra $20-$40 per year for food...

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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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