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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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    Thanks Jefferson. I agree with the restaurant. The training and separate prep and cooking space is something to be considered. Also gluten free bread stuffs are more expensive to buy even as a individual consumer, it would be the same for a restaurant.

    As for the disability, I don't agree with that either. A diabetic isn't disabled because it has to be careful what they eat.

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    I would have to agree with Marilyn Geller. I am a celiac diagnosed over 20 years ago, but recognize that businesses are in business to make money. To ask them to eat the additional cost means that they are passing that costs onto the gluten meal offerings, which may drive the majority of their customers elsewhere OR the may elect to remove the gluten-free offerings from their menu; or worse, create short cuts to save money that then allows gluten to be present in the "gluten-free" meal. Having lived through the advances of the last 20 years and remembering how hard (next to impossible in some cases) it was to eat out 20 years ago, I will gladly pay the additional costs and frequent those restaurant establishments that truly cater to the gluten-free needs of celiacs. I think this is a case of be careful what you wish for.

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    What a pathetic lawsuit happy society too many Americans live in. I too have celiac disease and no one forces me to visit a restaurant and not eat at home. So if I visit a restaurant and say they charge more money for organic foods or locally sourced or gluten free I can either stay or leave. By the way the grocery stores I shop at also charge more for gluten free breads, chips, and most items gluten free. They are also usually much smaller sizes for the higher cost. But you people who are lawsuit happy already know this.

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    I am sad to see so many of you say you're ok to pay more simply because it has the gluten-free tag on it. There are things put there that are upcharged just because they put the gluten-free tag on it and no I don't agree or appreciate that. The other day we went to one of my now favorite restaurants Mojo's Grill here in Ocala, we discovered they had a good size gluten-free menu. They had a dedicated fryer and all. When I asked what the price change for the wings was for and if they were different in any way they explained that that were exactly the same except they had to go in the dedicated fryer. For that I had to pay the dollar or two up charge. Yes I grateful to have the opportunity to eat out with friends and family but why should I be penalized just because of the tag gluten-free? As far as the training and such, restaurants have to train their staff in many other issues and are not claiming an upcharge due to that!

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    I am sad to see so many of you say you're ok to pay more simply because it has the gluten-free tag on it. There are things put there that are upcharged just because they put the gluten-free tag on it and no I don't agree or appreciate that. The other day we went to one of my now favorite restaurants Mojo's Grill here in Ocala, we discovered they had a good size gluten-free menu. They had a dedicated fryer and all. When I asked what the price change for the wings was for and if they were different in any way they explained that that were exactly the same except they had to go in the dedicated fryer. For that I had to pay the dollar or two up charge. Yes I grateful to have the opportunity to eat out with friends and family but why should I be penalized just because of the tag gluten-free? As far as the training and such, restaurants have to train their staff in many other issues and are not claiming an upcharge due to that!

    You have the choice of not eating there if you don't approve of the extra charge. Businesses do incur extra costs when offering such menus, and should be able to pass those along to customers.

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    You have the choice of not eating there if you don't approve of the extra charge. Businesses do incur extra costs when offering such menus, and should be able to pass those along to customers.

    I agree completely. I was so disgusted to read about this lawsuit. I love P.F. Chang's and, as a person who has celiac disease, was thrilled to see what an expansive gluten free menu they had. So few restaurants accommodate those of us with celiac disease and I am more than grateful for those restaurants that do. All people like Anna Marie Phillips do is encourage restaurants to stop offering gluten free options completely and shame on her for that. I was totally disgusted when I first read about this lawsuit and I hope the case is thrown out. Anna Marie Phillips should be ashamed of herself.

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    Gluten-free food cost more, goes bad more quickly and requires special preparation to avoid contamination. Of course the restaurants should be able to charge more to recover their added costs for the food and the special training to their staff.

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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!

    Agreed!

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    I will pay more for gluten-free food. Until there are enough restaurants that offer it, there will be no price competition. Same with the suppliers. Also there is an initial cost to get started in offering gluten-free that will go down in time.

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    I will pay more for gluten-free food. Until there are enough restaurants that offer it, there will be no price competition. Same with the suppliers. Also there is an initial cost to get started in offering gluten-free that will go down in time.

    Apparently part of the extra cost includes creating a war chest for your lawyers...

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    Once any training and assigned areas is done and in place, there is nothing else. Prices should be the same or "minimally" higher.

    It costs more for a company to cater to gluten free, Staff training, separate cooking area, gluten free (in P.F. Chang's case it is Tamari or gluten free soy sauce) and I don't mind paying for this. If your talking a restaurant that just leaves out the croutons to make you a version of gluten free then that is a problem. You're paying more for less. But when a restaurant really caters to my needs, I don't mind paying more.

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    What a sure way for all restaurants to NOT even attempt to serve gluten-free! Why bother, especially with the extra training, cost of gloves, the constant considerations of preventing cross contamination, as well as keeping up with any changes suppliers may make? Add to that the threat of a lawsuit, and you betcha, restaurants are gonna stop bothering. Nobody forces anyone to eat out! It's a choice, just as choosing to spend more in general for a nice dinner out or just eating a Wendy's potato ~ which has been a "lifeboat" more than once! Thanks, PF Chang's for serving gluten-free and keeping the gluten-free needs front and foremost! I think I'll go have a delicious gluten-free meal at PF Chang's soon!

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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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