Why P.F. Chang’s Is Being Sued Over Its Gluten-Free Menu

(Photo: P.F. Chang's/ Facebook/ Yahoo)

Those who need to eat gluten-free for their health face an uphill battle — limited food choices, hidden gluten (in drinks and some supplements) and even thousands of copy cats who give up gluten to be trendy

But are gluten free folks also discriminated against?  That’s what one California woman thinks. 

Anna Marie Phillips is suing the pan-Asian restaurant chain P.F. Chang’s over the prices of their gluten-free menu options, claiming that the surcharge on the restaurant’s gluten-free menu ”violates the Americans With Disabilities Act” by forcing those who cannot eat gluten to pay more. The restaurant — which was ranked the second most allergy-friendly restaurant by the website Allergy Eats — charges gluten-free diners a dollar per item more than the regular versions of the dishes.

And P.F. Chang’s is not the only place that’s jacking up the price on gluten-free food.  

A study conducted at Canada’s Dalhousie Medical School found that all the commercially available products labeled gluten-free were 242 percent more expensive than comparable products. One in 133 Americans (or about 1 percent of the population) suffer from celiac disease (which causes painful inflammation in the small intestine and can lead to malnutrition), and according to the University of Chicago’s Celiac Disease Center, this price discrepancy affects many people. “Our surveys tell us this is the No. 1 stressor for celiac patients, especially the newly diagnosed,” says Alice Bast, president of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness.

Related: 5 Myths About The Gluten-Free Diet Trend

"Often times I feel like I have to choose my health or having money," celiac sufferer Elizabeth Rose tells Yahoo Health. "If I have rent coming up, sometimes I’m pushed into a corner: should I eat this thing that’s going to hurt me or go hungry?"

Those looking to eat organic, vegan, or just plain healthy also face steeper prices.

According the British Medical Journal, it costs around $550 a year more, or $1.48 more per day, to eat healthier options like fruits, vegetables, fish, and nuts compared to processed foods, meats and refined grains.

Though the organic food industry raked in more than $81.3 billion in 2012 and public figures like first lady Michelle Obama are supporting healthier school lunches, the government still subsidizes less healthy foods. Corn, the basis for much of our processed food, tops the government subsidy list, raking in over $77 billion in aid between 1995 and 2010.

With so much big business and governmental influence affecting our food supply it seems next to impossible to fight for cheaper prices on healthy foods. And that is what makes Anna Marie Phillips’ lawsuit that much more interesting.

But, does she have a case?

"Having a dietary issue is a disability," attorney Mark Heller tells Yahoo Health. "To have to pay a premium price is discriminatory, and there is legal basis for a case. It would be like installing a handicapped ramp and then charging people a dollar to use it."

For those of us without a medical dietary restriction, it may be more difficult to see relief from higher prices. But, according to Heller, this case could help ease the situation. “This could be pioneering and trail blazing the way to bring light to the fact that people shouldn’t be charged differently.”

Up Next: Are You Secretly Drinking Gluten?