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    Do you have questions about celiac disease or the gluten-free diet?

Mykare

Americans With Disabilities Act

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Does anyone know if celiac disease is covered under the Americans' with Disabilities Act? If so, how do we go about righting 'wrongs'? My workplace provides a free lunch several times a year, but it is never gluten free. I feel the other employees are being compensated for our hard work, and I am being left out. I have discussed this with my manager, but to no avail. I just learned of the ADA a few days ago and am wondering if anyone else has had experience with this kind of discrimination?

Thank you.

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I think they have to supply you a gluten-free lunch but it does not have to be as good/great as the others- just gluten-free.

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I'm not an ADA expert but since your workplace isn't required to ever provide lunch at all, I can't imagine they could be forced to provide a gluten-free lunch. If this were something they did or didn't do that kept you from working, that would be different.

It's pretty thoughtless of them, but I can't imagine it's against the law.

richard

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I believe celiac disease may well be covered by the ADA. My husband mentioned that it was last summer when we needed a hotel room with a kitchen and none were available. The manager provided one for us as he said this disability was "covered by the ADA." I'm not 100% positive though, so I don't know how much help I am. Anyhow, perhaps employers are not required to provide their employees with food, but if they're providing this benefit to others, then I would say you are being discriminated against.

Sorry you have such a lousy boss. Best of luck.

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Discrimination has a key factor: Disseparate treatment. If the all the workers with diet problems are being treated (or mis treated) the same, then it's considered that the employer cannot reasonably accomodate them and it's OK.

But if an employer is treating only one person of the group that has diet problems and that person keeps getting singled out from perks, benefts, etc. then that's a discrimination problem.

The key idea of ADA is : employer has the right to not accomodate a handicapped person if the request is unreasonable and would be too costly to do so.

So the question is: are you being singled out and would a gluten-free meal be considered "above and beyond" call of duty to be point of being unreasonable accomodation? I don't think it's unreasonable to get gluten-free meal, but you probably aren't being singled out. Sounds like ignorance on employer's part. Next time before they order the food, call the restaurant/caterer, etc. and don't identify who or where you're from but ask if they understand the gluten-free diet, etc. If they do, then let person in your firm who orders know that info and that you'd like a gluten-free meal in order to keep on your medically necessary diet, etc. Let's pretend for a minute that gluten-free is a religious requirement, like not eating beef or staying kosher, employers wouldn't want to be accused of discriminating based on religion, so why is medical gluten-free diet an "open field?"

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Let me add to what I said. While I still don't see it as an ADA thing, let's imagine that it is. If you like working at this place and you want to stay, do you really want to cry "ADA" over a $5 or $10 lunch? Threatening a legal procedure will definitely change perceptions of you, even among some of your co-workers. I think you'd also want to consult with an expert beforte you take this step.

I know you've talked to your boss but you might try again. Can you at least get a salad? Two weeks ago I was required to go to a meeting where everybody was ordering sandwiches. I was prepared to just bring my own food (I usually bring something really good, like shrimp), but when the person doing the ordering heard about my restrictions, she offered to order a chef salad. And believe it or not, some of the folks who got sandwiches were jealous.

richard

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Richard makes an excellent point.

There seem to be some serious misconceptions about the ADA. To be covered by the ADA, you have to have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits you in a major life activity. I think we'd all agree that celiac meets that definition. Having said that, your employer may need to provide you a reasonable accommodation (if doing so does not create an undue hardship on the employer) to do your job. The question is, can you perform the essential functions of your job, with or without reasonable accommodation? I really don't believe you can make a case on the lunch thing.

A better example where accomodation may be necessary is if you have to travel for work. You need to be given the opportunity to have gluten-free food while travelling. (i.e., everyone else may eat the continental breakfast that comes free with the room, but you may need to be able to get yogurt, egg, etc.).

It's also important to note that even if you (we) are entitled to an accommodation (and that's a big if), we are not entitled to the accommodation of our choice. The employer can provide an equally effective (and less expensive) accommodation.

Hope that answers your question. Having said all that, and having practiced employment discrimination law for over 10 years, I'd caution you before you bring (or threaten) a suit or go to an outside agency because once you do so, you may change things for the worse.

Instead, you may wish to simply deal with the person who does the ordering or directly with the caterer to find an option that will work for you. I've found that most people are willing to accommodate our needs (even if they don't legally have to do so), they just need to know that (1) we need an accommodation (and I use this term in the non-legal sense now) and (2) what we can/can't eat. I have personally done better with a friendlier approach and, like Richard, often co-workers are jealous of what food I get instead.

Good luck.

Kim.

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I want to thank everyone that has responded to my query. My husband, playing devils advocate last night, thinks my do workers will consider me petty and jealous if I end up losing their free lunches instead of accomplishing my goal of my own free lunch. I now have a lot to consider before talking with my supervisor again next week. Thanks again for the helpful information.

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This is a great question! One I've been wondering about myself. However, my question is in regards to restaurants, airports, airlines and generally public services and public places of business. They have to accomodate people with handicaps right? What about us?

I travel frequently for work and I am often stuck in airports and on airplanes. And, of course, there's almost never anything I can eat! (Naturally I bring my own snacks where possible, but if I've been on the road for a while, that can be challenging.)

Does the ADA provide any guidance on something like this? If my flight is greatly delayed and I'm stuck at an airport or on a plane where I can't eat, shouldn't I be given the opportunity to eat something safe? Everyone else gets something to eat.

Even in restaurants, shouldn't they be forced to provide a meal option that is safe? Afterall, they are a public service.

Any thoughts on this would be appreciated.

Susan

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There are airlines that don't provide a gluten-free meal at all. I can't imagine that any restaurant would be required to do provide gluten-free food under the law.

If you depend on a wheelchair to get around, you cannot bring your own ramp or larger doors or elevator to get into a place. If they aren't there, you can't use it. However, if you have celiac (or any food allergy or heart disease or high blood pressure or diabetes or you're overweight) you CAN eat before you come or bring your own. It might not be fun or what you want to do, but you can still go to the place.

richard

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This is a great question! One I've been wondering about myself. However, my question is in regards to restaurants, airports, airlines and generally public services and public places of business. They have to accomodate people with handicaps right? What about us?

I travel frequently for work and I am often stuck in airports and on airplanes. And, of course, there's almost never anything I can eat!  (Naturally I bring my own snacks where possible, but if I've been on the road for a while, that can be challenging.)

Does the ADA provide any guidance on something like this? If my flight is greatly delayed and I'm stuck at an airport or on a plane where I can't eat, shouldn't I be given the opportunity to eat something safe? Everyone else gets something to eat.

Even in restaurants, shouldn't they be forced to provide a meal option that is safe? Afterall, they are a public service.

Any thoughts on this would be appreciated.

Susan

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Restaurants aren't a public service required to provide for everyone. They are a business, and many don't have that many different types of food. If I owned a restaurant and the government told me I had to provide for every possible food allergy or intolerance, that would be a financial nightmare and impossible, I would close up shop and now no one could eat my food. I can't believe airports don't have gluten-free snack foods available. Many have fruit, potato chips, chocolate bars, etc. Maybe not gourmet, yummy stuff. But enough to get by if need be.

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Restaurants aren't a public service required to provide for everyone. They are a business, and many don't have that many different types of food. If I owned a restaurant and the government told me I had to provide for every possible food allergy or intolerance, that would be a financial nightmare and impossible, I would close up shop and now no one could eat my food.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I know this response is a bit off the original topic but having been a head chef for many years before celiac curtailed that career I had to comment on this. Restaurants do have to abide by the ADA rules as long as they are not grandfathered an exemption. For example: if a restaurant has been in business for years and is not wheelchair accessible it is not required to be so, if it is new it must comply. As to the food issue, most (not all) restaurants can accomodate people with celiac IF their employes are educated about it. The problem is the education factor. If someone can call ahead and talk to the chef, do this a day ahead and let the chef call back if needed, the chef will most likely be willing to do what he or she can to accomodate you. Chefs take a lot of pride in their work and in their ability to feed people well and safely, ask to talk to them directly not just the management.

As far as airline travel goes we need to be VERY vocal about the need, this also applies to emergency relief efforts and food banks. Imagine being a celiac in Katrina or having a family who needs gluten-free food and needs to rely on food banks. We all need to be as active as we can to get legislation passed so we and the millions like us can eat safely.

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I know this response is a bit off the original topic but having been a head chef for many years before celiac curtailed that career I had to comment on this. Restaurants do have to abide by the ADA rules as long as they are not grandfathered an exemption.  For example: if a restaurant has been in business for years and is not wheelchair accessible it is not required to be so, if it is new it must comply. As to the food issue, most (not all) restaurants can accomodate people with celiac IF their employes are educated about it. The problem is the education factor. If someone can call ahead and talk to the chef, do this a day ahead and let the chef call back if needed, the chef will most likely be willing to do what he or she can to accomodate you.  Chefs take a lot of pride in their work and in their ability to feed people well and safely, ask to talk to them directly not just the management.

As far as airline travel goes we need to be VERY vocal about the need, this also applies to emergency relief efforts and food banks. Imagine being a celiac in Katrina or having a family who needs gluten-free food and needs to rely on food banks. We all need to be as active as we can to get legislation passed so we and the millions like us can eat safely.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Thanks for the reply. I agree that most chefs are willing to help. Whenever I eat at upscale restaurants, I don't have a problem. Several chefs have come out to talk to me and have made me great meals.

My problem is more with chain type restaurants where there aren't experienced chefs preparing the food. And, I agree, it's an education thing more than anything.

We definitely need to get the word out somehow. I also wondered how I would have faired in Katrina. I either would have been starving or really sick. That's why I've been wondering about the ADA thing. I don't know if a lawsuit would be successful, but it might get some publicity.

Susan

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Kim,

RE: Employment Practices cases

Do you represent the employer or the employee?

You are absolutely right that in most cases an employee wouldn't want to bring EEOC action as it might produce the reverse effect. My occupation is to sell EPLI and I tend to look at worse case scenario viewpoint so that I can tell employers what their could be involved in. I'm not used to telling the employees that there's a time to back off and let things be or look for other ways to resolve.

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Let's think about this again. If someone sued to require every airline flight and every airport and every restaurant to have gluten-free meals available, then to be fair they'd all have to have meals for each the eight major allergens, diabetes, people with high blood pressureand so on and so on.

When Katrina hit, lots and lots of people went hungry and thirsty. People who were already ill or elderly died because of the lack of food and water. Who do we sue for that?

As a couple of people here can tell you, I'm a fairly liberal person, especially on social issues. But suing or expecting the government to make it right all the time just doesn't make it.

richard

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Let's think about this again. If someone sued to require every airline flight and every airport and every restaurant to have gluten-free meals available, then to be fair they'd all have to have meals for each the eight major allergens, diabetes, people with high blood pressureand so on and so on.

When Katrina hit, lots and lots of people went hungry and thirsty. People who were already ill or elderly died because of the lack of food and water. Who do we sue for that?

As a couple of people here can tell you, I'm a fairly liberal person, especially on social issues. But suing or expecting the government to make it right all the time just doesn't make it.

richard

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Richard, you make good points. But let’s take it one step at a time.

I have a very specific question, which is, is there any legal precedence (perhaps under the ADA) to sue for not providing safe meal options for someone who has Celiac‘s disease?

Are there any lawyers on the board who can answer this?

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I don't know enough about the ADA to add to what has already been said, but I have an opinion anyway!

You could look at this from a "good citizen of the earth" persepctive instead of a legal perspective. First of all, your employer is not paying you gluten, and you are not being discriminated against for not eating gluten, and you are not being denied a legal benefit like health insurance, 401(k), whatever. It sounds like this lunch is being offered as a motivational tool, and a way for your boss to say "thank you" to his employees. And if he has the mentality of wanting to give you a gift, it's rude to say the gift isn't good enough. This is an exagerated example, but if your aunt knits you a wool sweater for Christmas, and you get itchy from wool, you wouldn't make her take it back and knit you something in cashmere, would you? You would say "thank you very much" and quietly pass on the sweater to someone else who would appreciate it.

If you are going to be working with these people every day, I think you are much better off to bring your own food than to accuse your boss of discrimination. It may not seem "fair", but sometimes, that's life.

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