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  • Jefferson Adams
    Jefferson Adams

    P.F. Chang's Temporarily Dodges a Gluten-free Bullet

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    Caption: P.F. Chang's China Bistro. Photo: Wikimedia Commons--Injustifiable

    Celiac.com 08/05/2015 - Should restaurants be required to provide gluten-free food at the same prices it charges for regular gluten-containing items? That question is at the heart of a lawsuit brought by a woman who claims P.F. Chang's has violated federal anti-discrimination laws by charging more for gluten-free items. A federal judge has now "tentatively" dismissed that lawsuit.

    P.F. Chang's China Bistro. Photo: Wikimedia Commons--InjustifiableP.F. Chang's had asked the judge in February to dismiss Anna Marie Phillips' class action lawsuit, claiming that her celiac disease does not make her a disabled person under the Americans with Disabilities Act. At that time, lawyers for Chang's urged U.S. District Judge Ronald Whyte to dismiss the suit to prevent what they termed a 'negative impact' upon restaurant industry as a whole.

    Phillips originally sued P.F. Chang's in a California state court in December, but the case was later moved to U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. According to the motion, the dismissal rests largely on the failure of the plaintiff "to plausibly allege that she is disabled under any applicable statute since her condition constitutes only a minimal limitation on the major life activity of eating."

    In words that may raise the eyebrows of many people impacted by celiac disease, the judge goes on to say that the plaintiff can "still consume all gluten-free foods. No authority supports plaintiff's baseless position that she is disabled." P.F. Chang's also maintained that, because it charges the same price to all customers of its gluten-free items, it is charging based on the food cost, not adding a surcharge based on the gluten-free status of the customer, and is thus not discriminating on the basis of disability.

    The class action suit states that because a gluten-free diet is medically necessary for individuals with celiac disease, gluten-free patrons have no choice but to order at the higher price.

    Phillips brought suit on behalf of persons with celiac disease or gluten intolerance who ordered items from P.F. Chang's gluten-free menu in California within four years prior to the suit.

    In an interesting legal wrinkle, the CEO of the Celiac Disease Foundation said in a February Legal Newsline article that it did not agree with Phillips' claims.

    "Celiac Disease Foundation recognizes that restaurants bear a financial burden for the employee training and other accommodations that are required to serve meals that are safe for those with celiac disease," Marilyn G. Geller said.

    P.F. Chang's cited the article in its motion to dismiss.

    What do you think? If P.F. Chang's provide gluten-free food in accordance with the law, must it provide the food at the same price as its non-gluten-free items, or can it charge more to reflect its costs?

    Read more at: Legalnewsline.com


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    I do not agree with Ms. Phillips. There are higher costs to establishments to offer gluten free foods. And, celiac diners DO have an option of whether or not to dine out or in most of the time. Those who travel a lot get caught, but, if they are traveling for work their expenses are usually covered. I am happy to pay more to ensure that my food is not cross contaminated and that I can enjoy a meal without having to worry about a possible cross contamination! I am totally willing to pay extra to make sure my servers, chefs, etc. are well trained against cross-contamination!

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    Guest Susan Swearingen

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    I have celiac disease. I am grateful that restaurants provide gluten-free options. Since the food often costs more, restaurants should be allowed to charge more.

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    gluten-free ingredients generally cost more, so restaurants should charge more. Maybe what should be happening is celiac disease groups should go after fed and state gov't wheat subsidies - does a poison for so many need fed gov't subsidies with your tax dollars?

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    I am so glad this case was at least tentatively dismissed. I understand the frustrations of having to may higher costs for gluten-free products in general, but I am so thankful for restaurants like P.F. Chang's that allows those with celiac to enjoy safely eating out with friends and family. Kudos to Celiac Disease Foundation for highlighting that it's simply more expensive for restaurants to offer a celiac safe gluten-free option. I continue to support P.F. Changs and hope the chain understands that most of those with celiac are grateful to have restaurants that understand their needs and offer them safe dining out options.

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    I feel they have a profit to make and should not have to provide expensive items for a "same price" as market products. There are examples, however, of only switching to gluten-free soy to make the item gluten free, that certainly do not call for a price increase for the gluten-free item.

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    None of us like having to pay more for gluten free food but it sure beats being sick for days. If a restaurant takes the time to properly train their employees to prevent this, it is worth the cost. More restaurants could benefit by doing this and increase their customer base.

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    I for one am happy about this. PF takes great care to offer this and I believe there is extra expense. It's one of the few restaurants where I feel reasonably safe. I wish there was more choices in eating and I was bummed to see litigation involved.

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    Maybe if the judge were celiac or had to eat gluten free and was forced to pay higher prices for eating in a gluten-free meal and still run the risk of being cross-contaminated the judge's decision might be different. Both foods from restaurants and pre-packaged gluten-free foods from grocery stores seem to have the same motto: Half the product for twice the price!

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    I think on a practical basis it needs to be dismissed. I disagree with the judges statement that it is minimal but fear there will be fewer gluten free options if this woman persists. I would be inclined to no longer offer gluten free options if it were my restaurant and I was the victim of this woman. California is drowning it's small businesses in paperwork and BS in general. Everyone should have their own business for a few years. They would be more practical. If you have a business in California you are probably breaking a law, even if you are unaware of it.

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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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