Dining with restrictive dietary needs is has always been a balancing act between health and monetary funds. The British Medical Journal discovered that it costs around $1.48 more each day in order to eat healthier options which amounts to $550 a year. Eating healthier includes those that choose to consume more balanced foods including fruits, vegetables, lean poultry and nuts compared to more processed foods. Food “trends” have spiked in the fields of organic, gluten free and vegan foods. However, for some, eating gluten free is not only a requirement but an absolute need in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Frequently restaurants have gluten-free counterparts of regular menu items that are coupled with an increased price tag. Many a time, this constitutes a valid rationale as gluten free substitutes cost more due to the nature of the ingredients including more expensive flours and substitutes. For those with extreme allergies to gluten, special handling of food is needed in order to maintain a safe cooking environment to prevent cross contamination, which some may also argue warrants the increase in price.
Although this is usually the case in explaining the upsurge in cost of gluten free foods, this is not the case in the most recent lawsuit filed against the restaurant chain P.F. Chang’s. Normally, the chain has shown a progressively diligent approach to creating a special gluten free menu with a multitude of options for its diners. However, Anna Marie Phillips claims that the upcharge in price “violates the Americans with Disabilities Act” by giving gluten free diners no option but to pay more. The lawsuit entails a culmination of a four year study that shows that over 3,000 patrons in 39 states have overpaid for their gluten free items. The main argument states that gluten free dishes cost, on average, over a dollar more than their equivalent regular dishes. When compared, many items that are listed on both menus have the same ingredients. Therefore, Phillips contends, there should be no upcharge. The legal basis of her claim relies on the classification of a dietary issue as a “disability.” If in fact Celiac disease is considered a medical restriction within the context of the Americans with Disabilities Act, it would indeed constitute a violation for those restaurants who upcharge gluten free menu items that have equivalent counterparts.
This becomes increasingly prevalent in a society where there is a growth in Celiac diagnosis. According to the University of Chicago’s Celiac Disease Center, approximately 1/133 Americans endures the symptoms of Celiac disease. What once started as a dietary trend has evolved into a medical concern for many. With no medication or cure on the market (with only preliminary stages of maintenance methods in the works), a gluten free diet is the only way for Celiac patients to resolve their symptoms that range from the more frequent intestinal inflammation and migraines to skin breakouts and depression.
Countries around the world have adopted strict labeling policies indicating when foods contain more than 20 parts per million of gluten. This policy has recently been adopted from Canada in the United States. Other nations have taken more proactive approaches in treating those with celiac as a “disability.” Italy, for example, gives their residents a stipend to purchase gluten free foods along with extra vacation days. In the United Kingdom, Celiac patients receive a prescription for a gluten free restricted diet in order to receive large discounts on food.
In the recent lawsuit against P.F. Chang’s, the plaintiff asks the Court to grant an injunction to disable the chain from imposing an upcharge along with restitution in the form of monetary damages for all patrons who overpaid for their gluten free meals. If Phillips is successful, this will be a huge gain for those who suffer the ill effects of Celiac disease. The classification of dietary restrictions as a “disability” has been more openly upheld in nations outside of the United States. Whether the Courts will follow their lead is not based particularly on precedence in the US jurisdiction system. Rather, this case will likely pursue the need in further clarification in the definition of what constitutes a “disability,” and if a dietary restriction qualifies, how the US Courts along with the healthcare system should address this need.
This post was originally published on Your Legal Lens by Olivia Kantyka HERE.
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