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.]
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.
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.
- Somerset woman suing Fall River restaurant after alleged incident concerning food allergies — Fall River Reporter
- Wheat — ACAAI