Celiac and Lawsuits, part 2

Discussions of the ADA, lawsuits, and having celiac disease has been stuck in my craw for the past couple of days. I thought about it over the weekend and did some more research today about it. Note, I’m not a lawyer, so, this post is not about legal advice but about how to navigate this world with this disease.

The Facebook groups have been lit up with discussions about the Williamsburg boy – 11 year old boy made to eat his home made gluten free items outside while on a filed trip to Colonial Williamsburg. Posts ranging from “I hope they close down the restaurant” to “I hope the boy’s family gets a big settlement” to ones similar to mine yesterday talking about how the situation could be handled better.

Today, someone posted about not being able to bring food into Top Golf. One of the responses talked about being able to bring food in due to the ADA. Another said that Top Golf should be sued. My answer is – you spend 3-4 maximum at Top Golf and why do you need a meal at that time. I’m not a golfer and have never been to Top Golf. But I’ve been to kids birthday parties, weddings, awards ceremonies, meetings, etc. all in that 3-4 hour range. I ate before I went, if hungry I ate after, and I had a gluten free bar or cookies in my purse if I ran into an emergency. So, I’m not really sure why someone can’t go 3-4 hours without eating.

Another post was about a child going to an awards banquet. The hosts of the banquet required everyone to pay for the food and the cost was $170. The 4 year old daughter would have been crushed if she didn’t go to the banquet. The woman was worried about her undiagnosed, but gluten free child eating a safe meal. The mother had been diagnosed with Celiac. The woman had not called the hosts nor the location to see if the caterer could provide a gluten free meal. My answer was to call the caterer and have a conversation about a gluten free meal. Many people were calling for a law suit.

Now, I understand this sounds judgmental – and it is. We are shifting the blame and support for this disease onto others. There are certain scenarios where an accommodation is to be expected and supported under the law – like if you are in prison, a cruise ship, or required to purchase a meal plan. I will talk about that later because that is very specific.

At a restaurant, I know I’m running the risk of getting cross contaminated. I also have the choice of eating at a million different restaurants so if you don’t offer a gluten free item I’m not going to patronize your establishment. I think most restaurants that offer gluten free items are catering to those with a gluten sensitivity and maybe don’t understand how devastating a crumb of a crumb can be for those with Celiac. The restaurant can make a reasonable accommodation but they don’t have to. There are several restaurants in my hometown that don’t offer a gluten free option. I would love to eat there but I just won’t get to go there. Ever. It sucks, but I’m not going to sue them.

There is some legal precedent for all of this and some good and some questionable resources to research. I found an attorney’s web site that contradicts the ADA.gov web site and their description.

In 2013 Leslie University was sued by students with Celiac disease. The university required all students living on campus to purchase a meal plan. The university was not accommodating those with food allergies, sensitivities, or celiac disease. The settlement between the Department of Justice and the University agreed that Leslie University would make allergy sensitive food available to students.

The agreement further established that gastrointestinal diseases were covered under the ADA. Specifically, they say, “Some individuals with food allergies have a disability as defined by the ADA – particularly those with more significant or severe responses to certain foods. This would include individuals with celiac disease and others who have autoimmune responses to certain foods, the symptoms of which may include difficulty swallowing and breathing, asthma, or anaphylactic shock.” So, there is your definition of what types of food issues are covered under the ADA. In reading, gluten sensitivity would not be covered under the ADA.

The ADA specifically says that they do NOT require that all public accommodations that serve food, like restaurants, also serve gluten-free or allergen-free food. Furthermore they state, “A restaurant may have to take some reasonable steps to accommodate individuals with disabilities where it does not result in a fundamental alteration of that restaurant’s operations.” A fundamental alteration of the restaurant’s operations means they have to answer questions about ingredients and can reasonably modify a food item to make it gluten free, they should. But they do not have to modify their menu to ensure they accommodate food allergies or celiac.

So, I think we all need to take this down a notch from the boiling point. The reality is this will get sorted in the courts and we will have to wait to see how this plays out.

But for now, a conversation and some pre-planning can avoid a lot of heartache and rumbling tummies. If eating out anywhere, do some research or place a call to explain your situation, what you need, and ask for help. Most of the time a restaurant or catering company will attempt to accommodate your dietary requirements. They deal will this all the time. If they choose not to accommodate your requirements, you have some options. Eat before and/or after the event, pack a snack, and discretely eat it during the event. If you are uncomfortable with those options, choose not to go.

I’ve gotten this out of my system for now. I think we still have to take responsibility for our disease and take precautions when eating outside the house. We have to be proactive in advocating for gluten free options, but if they aren’t available we have some choices.

More information on the ADA’s web site about Leslie University.

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