You Be the Judge: Should Woman Sue Chipotle Over Discrimination for Her Food Allergy?


A woman was told by the manager of a Chipotle outlet that there was nothing on the menu safe for her gluten allergy despite her having eaten there safely before. Although the corporation apologized and offered her a free meal, she is suing Chipotle. Would you sue if you were in her shoes?

That question brings us to this installment of our “You Be the Judge” series, where we present a food allergy-related scenario and invite you to share your opinions and expertise.

According to the complaint, Kristen Russell has a gluten allergy that causes severe symptoms, including abdominal pain and cramping, diarrhea, hives, vomiting, nausea, difficulty breathing, and possibly death, all classic signs of anaphylaxis. [It should be noted that the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology asserts that gluten allergy is a misleading term commonly confused with wheat allergy or sometimes celiac disease.]

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The complaint alleges that Russell entered a Chipotle restaurant in Fall River, MA, as she had several times before, proceeded to the counter, and informed the staffer that she was allergic to gluten.

She stated that she was familiar with the menu and had eaten there safely several times before. She understood their flour tortilla was the only menu item she could not safely consume and that when she informed the counter staff of her allergy in the past, they would implement special allergy procedures, which included wiping the counter, washing their hands, and changing their gloves.

Russell alleges the staff member immediately informed her that there was nothing on the menu she could have. She countered that she knew which item on the menu was problematic and that if the staff implemented their simple allergen procedures, she could be accommodated safely.

After a continued exchange where Russell told the staff member to check Chipotle’s website to verify the flour tortilla was the only one to contain gluten, the staff member called the manager over.

“This is the lady with gluten,” said the staff member, according to the complaint. Russell’s account states that the manager wrongly told her that everything on the menu was “filled with gluten,” even though Chipotle’s website indicates only the flour tortillas contain gluten. She explained that she had eaten at the establishment many times and that she could be safely accommodated as long as the staff changed their gloves.

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According to Russell, the manager refused to initiate the allergy protocol insisting there was nothing safe on the menu, then told her to leave, refusing to serve her.

She subsequently sent a message via Chipotle’s customer service website describing the details of her ordeal. A customer care coordinator apologized for the incident and offered her a buy-one-get-one-free credit towards her next purchase.

The complaint alleges the denial of service was motivated and caused by the restaurant’s discriminatory animus against Russell because of her food allergies, and the incident caused her distress and humiliation.

Her attorney is requesting punitive and compensatory damages.

So with information in hand, we now turn to you, our readers — who collectively have seen and heard it all regarding food allergies — and ask you to render your opinion: While this sort of treatment is infuriating, do you think Russell’s suit is appropriate or should she have been satisfied with Chipotle’s apology and offer of free food?

You be the judge by sounding off in the comments section below and let us know if something like this has happened to you.

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Dave Bloom
Dave Bloom
Dave Bloom is CEO and "Blogger in Chief" of

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  1. We’ve had similar situations living with life threatening peanut/tree nut allergies. We just don’t patronize the restaurant. Can’t blame restaurants for not wanting to take the risk and liability of cross-contamination. Sounds like a litigious being. And if they did accommodate but didn’t clean properly resulting in accidental cross-contamination she would likely sue too. Darned if you do, darned if you don’t.

  2. Definitely sue. People don’t understand that this is a disability and they need to accommodate for it. It all starts with cases like this one to change the mindset. Previously, we had a similar issue on an overseas flight. When I mentioned my child’s allergies, they said they will call the security and kick us out of the airplane to possibly take another flight to happen 3 days later in a city we were just transiting. Today it happened to this person in a restaurant but it could’ve happen on an airplane too where the options are dire. The discrimination and ignorance culture need to change because essentially how hard is it to change gloves and wipe counters? As long as the restaurant had followed the allergy procedures, there would be no grounds to sue them. If they don’t, go ahead and sue!

    • I completely agree. Let’s start pushing for people to accommodate like the disability it is. Change takes time and it starts with those directly affected by it.

      We have been forbidden to wait in the waiting room of my son’s occupational and speech therapy clinic, because they refuse to encourage families to eat at the picnic tables outside and openly encourage to bring full on meals to eat in their living room style waiting room, catering to toddlers and young children with toys and such everywhere. I’ve seen peoples children stuffing toys with Mac and cheese noodles, crumbling bamba puffs into the couch cushions and throw pillows.

      After inquiring about a no eating policy, me and my children were banned from waiting in their waiting room, so I have to wait an hour with my 1 year old in the summer heat, because we’re also required to remain on premises during my son’s therapy. They told me they like their patients to feel at home and will not ban eating in the waiting room, but instead banned us and told us if we’re not feeling at home there to find a different treatment center.

      Why should we be forced to choose between my son’s care and his and my daughter’s wellbeing?

  3. This sounds like a training issue – not a discrimination lawsuit. The staff could have accommodated if they knew their ingredients and protocol. It could be argued the staff was acting to protect the customer from a bad reaction – even if they were basing this on incorrect understanding. Sad that it happened and hope that the restaurant follows up to properly train servers to accommodate.

  4. Living with hidden disability is so hard. They get scared for life with every situation like that. Same situation happened to my 23 years old son. He left a restaurant hungry, sad and upset when the waitress told him they can’t accommodate his food allergies

  5. It is a matter of lack of appropriate allergen information and training, but also liability concerns. The staff need to be fully trained about allergens and the ingredients in their food products. I have severe anaphylaxis to 5 major allergens but have been well accommodated at any Chipotle establishment in the New England region. I share my FARE allergen card – available in the FARE site for free- and ask that hs DS are washed, gloves changed, and some products be provided from fresh stock. They even clean counters! Chipotle’s response was not sufficient with a buy one get one free coupon- really Chipotle?—and should have included something more in explanation of their allergen protocols- and a heartfelt apology via phone call. Sueing Chipotle is not the way to have them upgrade their allergen protocol and will make it more difficult for those with allergies who want to enjoy their products. More conversations and less threatening will be more effective and help to create a better allergen protocol that is adhered to across the restaurant cgsin with consistency!

      • Agreed. The more understanding and collaboration to educate and create safe menus, the better it can be fir everyone. It is not anything that can’t be accomplished but legal action will alienate and cause more skepticism and avoidance
        Let keep this real and productive!

  6. Usually I say no to lawsuits…. But this one is clearly needed. The manager should know better. It’s literally her job to “manage” the employees, the menu, protocols. She said everything was “filled with gluten” but she knew darn well she was lying to that customer to get her to leave. That’s disgusting behavior.

  7. I do not think suing is warranted based on a single incident, especially since “many times” she had eaten at the same Chipotle and the staff followed her requests. It’s too much to require that all staff always follow all company allergy training, especially since the staff (incorrectly) acted to prevent a serious allergic reaction.

  8. I love Chipotle. They are our go to for my son with pn/TN allergies. I can even eat there with a dairy intolerance. Each location is different though. No matter what restaurant, there are always going to be some employees that are ignorant of food allergies. This could happen anywhere and its not cool to sue the company, especially one that is as allergy friendly as chipotle. Leave a bad review on allergyeats, yelp, google etc. It would probably be more effective. Or go to a different Chipotle! She must have lots of time, money or be a lawyer to take these actions.

  9. Unfortunately, sueing is the only way to get restaurants to treat the allergic population with respect and knowledge. Training is 100% needed at all food establishments to ensure patrons are served knowledgeably and safely. Gluten is a common ingredient, chipotle has an allergy aware menu online which shows which products have gluten. The manager just had to do some digging to ensure this. My son is anaphylactic to wheat, chipotle is a life saver and go to restaurant when he feels like eating out. All we do is ask the person to change their gloves and stick to the rice, meat and beans since on the other side they put their hands into the lettuce and cheese. Also, I have been treated with impatience and rudeness a few times when I ask them to change gloves- it’s a training issue. I have also been made to feel embarassed in public simply for advocating for safety. They don’t understand the logic behind our requests, maybe a lawsuit will bring clarity.

  10. I think instead of a monetary lawsuit, she should fight for new training on allergy procedures for every employee in every Chipotle across the country.

  11. I’m assuming that there may be gluten “hidden” in some of their products? Which does happen in everyday products. Unfortunately manufactures do not list everything on the label and gluten may be listed as another name. The same as MSG. I think the manager was trying to avert an allergic reaction. I do not blame this manager. At this point Chipotle was in a no win situation with this person. I believe in today’s world, managers would rather refuse service, then have a sick person on their hands. I’m assuming this will be a learning experience for Chipotle, and hopefully training will happen. But without training, I’d probably have done the same.

  12. I’ve been in similar situations like this. There seems to be a lack of training and the manager doesn’t care about and can’t be bothered with food allergies. If I were this person, in addition to emailing customer service, I would have contacted the owner of this Chiptole as well as corporate headquarters to find out their policy on food allergy safety and if staff at Chiptoles are trained on gluten free orders. After finding out this information, and if Chiptole does incorporate food allergy safety, then this woman could go back to this Chiptole and place an order asking for gluten free safety protocols. If her request is denied, you can say you spoke with the owner and corporate about what has to be followed. You can also ask the owner or corporate to talk with the manager. ( A few years ago, I was at the checkout counter at a Walgreens. The cashier was eating peanuts, which my daughter is allergic to. I asked for another cashier and explained why. I then spoke with the store manager who said he lets his staff eat at the registers and he said he can’t tell them not to eat peanuts, even despite it being a serious allergen. When I got home, I called up Walgreens Corporate and was connected to a regional manager. This manager was incensed by what happened. He called me back a few days later and said he spoke with that Walmart manager and cashier, and reviewed the policy that staff can only eat in the breakroom and must wash their hands after.)

  13. I am an allergy parent that has left many restaurants because they wouldn’t accommodate my son’s allergies. I have also been to many restaurants where the staff went out of their way to make sure my son was safe. We have actually come a long way in this country in the 23 years I have been dealing with food allergies. I think our country can be a little too lawsuit happy. I would hope fighting to change laws is a better solution. I would hate to see more restaurants use the Dunkin Donuts method that posts a sign that states ANY of their products might contain any of the allergens. I know that since covid many restaurants have struggled with new staff and service is not what it used to be. My local Chipolte has had horrible service since covid. I have been to other Chipotles that are operating well. Not to sound heartless, but you did not get sick from eating at the restaurant. You were understably upset and angry. I don’t believe it warrants a lawsuit. Hopefully Chipotle will step up and make you feel better about how you were treated. Leave the lawsuits for someone who was truly harmed and should have compensation.

  14. I was under the impression that all food service workers in MA are required to have food allergy training. That being said, maybe they felt that they put their gloved hands on the food itself causing the gluten to be in all products. This is why I avoid certain menu items despite the fact that they are noted to be allergen free, e.g. restaurants that serve salads that have nuts as an option may have inadvertent cross contamination in assembly.
    I would much rather be told a facility cannot accommodate me than one that says they can and have poor practices. No menu item is worth risking death.
    Therefore, I would rather say thank you for information and wanting to keep me safe vs initiating a lawsuit.

  15. My family just had the exact thing happen to us only days ago at Popeyes. The employee said they didn’t know and therefore “couldn’t guarantee anything”. I asked to speak with the manager and was completely ignored. We had eaten at another one before where they were very helpful and accommodating to my sons peanut allergy. Their website said the food was safe and that they would be happy to help with inquiries. It all comes down to proper training, a little knowledge and some willingness to deviate from the norm and put a little effort in.


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