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Paul Zimmerman
pzimmerman@mrllp.com
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P.F. Chang’s Sued over Gluten-Free Upcharge

On November 24th, a Northern District of California judge refused to dismiss an Unruh Civil Rights Act class action lawsuit against the popular restaurant chain, P.F. Chang’s. The plaintiff alleged that the $1 upcharge the restaurant implemented for gluten-free menu items unfairly discriminated against people who have celiac disease (celiac is an autoimmune disorder whereby the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine. The disease affects approximately 1 in 100 people worldwide).

“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. Accepting plaintiff’s allegations as true, she has stated a plausible claim for relief,” stated Judge Ronald M. Whyte.

While the case has thus far only survived a motion to dismiss (wherein the court must accept the plaintiff’s allegations as true), the matter is noteworthy because it demonstrates a potential litigation risk for restaurants that seek to capitalize on food trends. Indeed, even if P.F. Chang’s ultimately prevails in the lawsuit – and the court made it a point to note that “on a more complete factual record, the court might reach a different conclusion” – it still must endure the costs and risks associated with litigation. Other restaurateurs should be mindful of these same risks when deciding whether to upcharge based on particular food trends and ingredients. 

This article is not offered as, and should not be relied on as, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice in specific situations.