Retirement Community Resident Sues Over Gluten-Free Food

celiac-senior-living wpA resident of a Maryland retirement community alleges the facility repeatedly served her food containing gluten when its staff knew of her celiac disease, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday.

  • Rachel Konieczny, 1

See also

The complaint, filed in Maryland District Court, alleges that Broadmead, a retirement community in Cockeysville, violated Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act when the facility discriminated against Eleanor McGinn on the basis of her disability.

The complaint also claims breach of contract, negligence relating to food preparation, and negligent misrepresentation, among other claims, based on McGinn’s reliance on Broadmead’s assurances that she would be served gluten-free food and the facility’s promotion of a gluten-free dietary program.

A spokesperson for Broadmead declined comment.

Before submitting a residency application to Broadmead in October 2016, McGinn met with the facility’s then-director of dining to discuss the seriousness of her celiac disease, to which the dining director “assured her that the kitchen staff understood the seriousness of Celiac Disease, and Broadmead’s gluten-free options were abundant, safe, and… in an expansion mode,” the complaint alleged.

After moving into the facility in 2017 and throughout her time at the facility, McGinn had conversations with various staff and executives about her need to follow a gluten-free diet. In the first six months of her stay at the facility, McGinn became sick six times from gluten, the complaint alleges.

This gluten exposure, according to the complaint, has had a “compounding toxic effect, resulting in more intense gluten reactions over time” that ultimately makes McGinn “substantially limited in the major life activities of eating and the major bodily functions of the immune, digestive, bowel, and neurological systems.”

Additionally, the complaint alleges that McGinn was deprived of the social outlet of eating with the other residents when she ordered food at the facility and later rejoined the other residents at the table, who were finished eating by the time she obtained her food. Eventually, McGinn stopped attending the dining hall.

Andrew Rozynski, counsel for McGinn, said he hopes this complaint helps make the public more sensitive to the needs of the population of individuals affected with celiac disease.

“We want to ensure that communities across the country are ensuring that if they advertised that they are going to provide gluten-free options, that they will honor that representation and be sensitive to people with celiac disease and to provide them with accommodations as necessary,” Rozynski said.

In 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled against a Colonial Williamsburg restaurant that refused to let a child with a severe gluten allergy eat his own food at its restaurant. The court ultimately found that a jury could find for either the restaurant or the child, vacating the district court’s judgement and remanding the case. The court since denied Colonial Williamsburg’s en banc petition for a rehearing.

In 2020, University of Maryland, College Park student Hannah Smith sued the university, alleging it violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by serving her food with gluten at least three times in the span of the academic year. The case was settled out of court.

According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, the disease is considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities act because individuals with celiac disease have different needs at different times in their life.