Back in December 2014, a lawsuit was filed against P.F. Chang’s for charging more for its gluten-free options. Anna Marie Phillips filed the suit in Santa Clara County superior court for discrimination and violation of the Americans with disabilities act.
The suit claims that P.F. Chang’s forces people with celiac disease to pay higher prices for gluten-free versions of their menu selections. This lawsuit is seeking class action status. According to the suit, over the past four years more than 3,000 people in over 39 states have been affected. P.F. Chang’s adds a dollar charge to gluten-free items even if they are naturally gluten-free.
Does P.F. Chang’s Asian Bistro discriminate against people with celiac disease by charging more for gluten-free dishes than for their non-gluten-free counterparts? A ruling by a federal judge means that the lawsuit against P.F. Chang’s over its gluten-free menu can’t be dismissed just yet.
The class action lawsuit against P.F. Chang’s for allegedly charging more for gluten-free menu items can continue. Judge Ronald Whyte’s Nov. 23rd order denied the company’s motion to dismiss plaintiff Anna Marie Phillips’ first amended complaint.
“Neither party has cited, nor has the court found, any case specifically discussing whether celiac disease constitutes a disability under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) or Unruh Act,” had Whyte written in his 13-page ruling.
“However, accepting the additional detail in the first amended complaint about the consequences of ingesting or being exposed to gluten, which plaintiff must guard against, plaintiff has pled sufficient facts to support her claim that she has a disability that impacts a major life activity.”
“The court notes that on a more complete factual record, the court might reach a different conclusion.”
In his order last month, Whyte concluded that Phillips, in her new complaint, pled sufficient facts to claim that the immune reaction to eating gluten meets the definition of a “medical condition” under the state’s Unruh Act for people with celiac disease.
In her amended complaint, Phillips also claims that celiac disease is an “inheritable and hence genetic characteristic.” P.F. Chang’s argues that the plaintiff must allege that she actually inherited characteristics known to cause disease under the second prong of the “medical condition” definition.
At stake in the lawsuit is whether or not P.F. Chang’s, and, by extension, other restaurants can charge more money for gluten-free food than they do for similar, non-gluten-free menu items.
In August, the judge granted P.F. Chang’s motion to dismiss Phillips’ original complaint. Whyte ruled that the plaintiff failed to allege facts showing that the restaurant chain discriminated against her and other guests with celiac disease or a gluten allergy/intolerance, by charging $1 more for some gluten-free menu items compared to non-gluten-free versions of menu items with a similar name but prepared and handled much differently.
However, Whyte granted Phillips a leave to amend. In doing so, the judge expressed his “reservations” about whether the plaintiff could ever state a viable claim under her discrimination theory. Phillips filed her first amended complaint soon after.
But a detailed list of Phillips’ symptoms and reactions when ingesting gluten forced the judge to change his mind. So after all the back and forth, as to whether or not the lawsuit will gain traction, stay tuned.