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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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    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.

    All gluten free products cost more at the store, why should eating out be different? I agree that there are added costs to making gluten free foods and don't mind paying them! Just appreciate having that option as my wife has had to stop going to many of our old food stops who don't offer gluten free at all!

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    Guest Diagnosed in 2012


    I have personal experience with the problems of eating out and traveling with celiac disease. I think it is also very clear that celiac disease clearly constitutes more than a “minimal limitation on the major life function of eating.”  To say otherwise is outrageously disingenuous.  I have literally been stuck at airports where I could not find a single item of any real nutritional value I could eat. (That situation has imoroved in recent years because of restaurateurs adding gluten free menus. )  

    That doesn’t mean this lawsuit has merit, however.  

    It WOULD be discriminatory to charge a celiac more than was charged to a non-celiac for the SAME product, but that isn’t what is being alleged here.  gluten-free food IS a different product from glutinous food.   It doesn’t cost the same to source, manufacture, market or serve.  Restaurants also can’t count on the same economies of scale.  

    It isn’t discriminatory to charge more for Braille books or books on tape.  It is not discriminatory to charge more for gluten-free food either so long as there is a non-discriminatory basis for doing so.

     A lawsuit like this is frivolous and counter productive to encouraging restaurants from proving gluten-free menu alternatives.  

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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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