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  • Jefferson Adams
    Jefferson Adams

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

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    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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    There's a bigger issue here: namely whether restaurants will refuse to carry gluten-free food at all.

     

    Our country (US) gives huge subsidies to Wheat and Corn industries. As a result, it's been cheaper to use wheat as a filler than other potential grains (like rice). If rice costs more because of the our historically-predominant use of wheat then why wouldn't a restaurant or supplier be free to charge more? But, more importantly, why would we, as celiacs, want to discourage restaurants from carrying alternatives for us because we insist they eat the profit loss? Sure I'd like things to change so that wheat isn't the most cost-effective filer to use. But given that isn't the case now, do we really want to lose any options at restaurants?

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    I have a extreme sensitivity myself, to the point of it being disabling for a few days from crumbs/residue. Restaurants have been a no go for years, aside from this one sushi place where I know the chef. Most of the time I just bring my own foods in mention I have celiac disease and a corn allergy, then order a beverage. Only do this when I am meeting with others or want to feel "Normal" and eat out. Eating out is a option, if you do not like, trust, or find where you are going to be overly expensive, but must eat out. Bring your own food and order whats safe with no price difference like steamed broccoli and a drink.

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    I have mixed feeling about this whole thing. The restaurants are charging more for the product at the get go, because it costs more for. They also have doors widened for wheel chairs, push buttons for easy access, wider isles, larger restrooms, and they build ramps for people to make it possible to get to and fro.

     

    So why not accommodate celiacs? Is or isn't it a disability? Why are we comparing disabilities? Where do we draw the line? The overall cost of accommodations is distributed all over. Making it possible for everyone to eat out is what this person is trying to change. Having any disability is going to cost more, but who should pay?

     

    If you are on disability, and require a wheel chair, who pays for that, and how about the big van that holds the wheel chair, and all the meds one needs to take?

     

    It is hard to be sick; we all know that. it is hard and expensive to live with this disease/disability. They first have to establish whether it is a disability or not.

     

    I have more questions then answers. I sure would love to be a fly on the wall in this case.

     

    Thanks for the update Jefferson, I look forward to reading more as it comes to fruition.

     

    BTW, for the folks doing some name calling, it is just uncalled for. The person filing this lawsuit might be saving your ass. Rosa Parks was called a few names too, but look what she did! I hope this wins, really.

     

    She and I, and anyone who thinks differently, are not, "morons" or "stupid". This person who filed is brave and courageous. Imagine for a second how hard it had to have been for this young college student. We could stand beside her and support her; it could help everyone with disabilities.

     

    Change is hard, it is scary, but I am glad she is standing up for what she believes in!

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    I have celiac disease and still don't trust "gluten free" menus at restaurants. I absolutely expect to pay more for a truly gluten free option. It is an expensive endeavor to serve gluten free at home with separate utensils, toasters, etc. Can you imagine the nightmare for one restaurant?

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    A lot of food for thought on both sides. It is frustrating to pay a lot more for gluten-free products, however, with the gluten-free food items purchased at the grocery store, these can be claimed on your taxes at the end of the year. I have celiac disease, and, yes it's hard to go out to eat, however, it could be a whole lot worse.

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    I would like receive information to help me to know what to eat.

    Alice, a Registered Dietitian is an excellent source of nutrition information. An RD will instruct you in the gluten free diet choices. A gluten free diet individualized and tailored for you, will ensure you meet the missing nutrients from eliminating gluten from your diet.

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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 have eaten at Olive Garden and told them I have celiac and have never been denied. They have told me and it is written on their gluten-free menu that there are shared facilities and they cannot guarantee me that it will be completely gluten-free. It is up to me to decide if I want too eat there. They have been very accommodating every time and I will return.

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    We are paying more and still getting cross-contaminated. When you pay more at a restaurant, who is getting the money? Not the kitchen staff. Not the wait staff. You pay more for gluten-free items because that is what they charge, but you have no idea what they paid. If a bag of flour costs $5 extra, and it makes 20 dishes, that "little bit extra" you're paying just netted that corporation 150% profit. I wonder if you would find it reasonable if the restaurant charged $1 extra to sit at a handicap-accessible table, or use the wheelchair ramp? I eat at several local restaurants that provide gluten-free at no extra cost. If a small business can afford to provide gluten-free food, why is a corporate-owned business charging so much?

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    I have mixed feeling about this whole thing. The restaurants are charging more for the product at the get go, because it costs more for. They also have doors widened for wheel chairs, push buttons for easy access, wider isles, larger restrooms, and they build ramps for people to make it possible to get to and fro.

     

    So why not accommodate celiacs? Is or isn't it a disability? Why are we comparing disabilities? Where do we draw the line? The overall cost of accommodations is distributed all over. Making it possible for everyone to eat out is what this person is trying to change. Having any disability is going to cost more, but who should pay?

     

    If you are on disability, and require a wheel chair, who pays for that, and how about the big van that holds the wheel chair, and all the meds one needs to take?

     

    It is hard to be sick; we all know that. it is hard and expensive to live with this disease/disability. They first have to establish whether it is a disability or not.

     

    I have more questions then answers. I sure would love to be a fly on the wall in this case.

     

    Thanks for the update Jefferson, I look forward to reading more as it comes to fruition.

     

    BTW, for the folks doing some name calling, it is just uncalled for. The person filing this lawsuit might be saving your ass. Rosa Parks was called a few names too, but look what she did! I hope this wins, really.

     

    She and I, and anyone who thinks differently, are not, "morons" or "stupid". This person who filed is brave and courageous. Imagine for a second how hard it had to have been for this young college student. We could stand beside her and support her; it could help everyone with disabilities.

     

    Change is hard, it is scary, but I am glad she is standing up for what she believes in!

    Please remember the American with Disabilities Act requires only a reasonable accommodations. If you're an electrician and require a wheelchair is the person's employer going to purchase a lift so the person can reach any elevated lines? The answer is no. Pippy if a person is on disability and requires a wheelchair and van the answer to the question is if you're lucky & have excellent medical insurance they may pay for an electric wheelchair, but under no circumstances will they ever pay for a van or even a small trailer to place the wheelchair on for travel. All the meds a person must take are either paid for by your insurance company with you paying your copay, or you beg the manufacturer of available medications to see if they'll give them to you for free. To obtain assistance you must then jump through every hoop they create& many doctors don't want to deal with all the paperwork so they refuse to assist. That leaves one the option of doing without, or begging a Dr to prescribe a different medication.

    I believe the court is going to have to decide is it reasonable for the restaurant to absorb the extra cost of paying for the raw food product, staff education, any supplies needed to make sure no contamination to occur, etc. I think what is ultimately going to happen is the market will be flooded with gluten free raw products decreasing the overall raw product cost. The education and awareness whether accurate, or not has been provided by celebrities leaving the cost of enforcing keeping items separate so there's no cross contamination which for some items may cost specific equipment and I don't see the court stating it's reasonable for the restaurant to bear the cost of additional equipment. Thankfully a brilliant individual created reusable bags that can be used in a toaster, or toaster oven, but I don't see the court mandating purchasing commercial grills, etc.

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    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!

    Except that, behind kitchen doors, they are not as careful as they would like to portray. Preparers, in many cases, just use the same work surfaces, pans, etc.

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    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.

    Then what safety to your health are they actually providing with their food? None. And if you end up sick, will you continue to go back there ??

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    Charging more is not my issue. Making sure the food is prepared safely and not cross-contaminated is!!

    Yep. And most just present themselves as doing that when they actually do not.

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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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