Jennifer’s Way

Thanks to, I’ve learned that actress Jennifer Esposito of Blue Bloods has possibly become yet another victim of workplace discrimination because of celiac disease. It sounds like she asked CBS for an accommodation due to her medical issues and they don’t sound very interested in retaining her talent.

According to an article on, all kinds of grief is being thrown Jennifer’s way as the ignorant and biased among us slam her for being just another spoiled actor who “chooses” to eat a special diet. Celiac is an autoimmune disease that no one chooses to have. An estimated one in 99 Americans has it, with most undiagnosed or misdiagnosed, and one in 33 carry the gene for it. The gene can activate at any point in a person’s life.

When celiacs eat gluten, the protein in wheat, barley, and rye, it causes the body’s immune system to attack its own cells. A wide range of symptoms can occur, from brain fog to diarrhea to fainting to migraines, and the remedy is adhering to a gluten-free diet, not medication or surgery.

Celiac is not a choice. It’s a permanent condition and it often coexists with other food allergies and intolerances, as well as related autoimmune diseases like diabetes and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Eating even a trace amount of gluten can make some celiacs ill, which is why they not only have to avoid gluten but anything that can cause cross-contamination (like bread being sliced on the same cutting board their lettuce came from).

Celiacs have to learn to think of gluten as poison. It doesn’t matter how much or how little they’re exposed to, it makes them sick. In some people gluten can also act as a neurotoxin. Scorpion venom is a neurotoxin. It takes about 10 years on average for people to be diagnosed with celiac disease, and that’s if they’re fortunate enough to have a doctor test for it at all. People are often medicated for anxiety, told they need counseling, and slapped with vague labels like irritable bowel syndrome when they are in fact suffering from a very real condition that needs swift and decisive action.

Esposito has launched her own website on the topic and I just finished reading the page that details her path to a diagnosis: I’ve also experienced management that doesn’t believe autoimmune disease is a serious enough condition to warrant accommodation, have been told it was in my head, and have been offered crackers in a medical setting. I relate to her journey and am glad she is taking her misery and turning it into her ministry (one of my personal mottos; credit to T.D. Jakes).

You can find more information on celiac and food allergies in the Diet & Health category of my blog (see the right sidebar). Employers need to realize that celiac, its complications, and its autoimmune disease buddies are very real life-limiting conditions and should consider accommodations in accordance with the ADA. Those of us with these conditions should not have to beg, plead, or bargain for flexibility in the work environment and we don’t need to be interrogated as to whether we really are ill just because we might not look like it.

Celiac is often called an invisible disability, and while some people are blessed to become completely healthy once they cut gluten out of their diets, others have residual damage or complications that they need to manage. These people who are poo-pooing Jennifer’s condition could get into trouble for harassing someone who is obese, diabetic, or missing a limb, but somehow they find it okay to slander a celiac whose symptoms didn’t magically disappear when she went gluten-free.

On that note, there’s a lot of education to do in our society. People like us shouldn’t be treated as if “it’s not that bad” or we’re making things up. We are real, there’s a one in 99 chance you’re one of us, and our numbers will continue to grow as society and science learn to test for diet-related issues first, before prescribing drugs or throwing their hands in the air. You can learn more about celiac disease at

Lastly, stop by Jennifer’s website at and throw some support her way. I’m not concerned with her fame or her show. I care that yet another fellow celiac is being raked over the coals for trying to take care of themselves and that she’s trying to help others with the disease.

Jennifer, you go girl!


All events contain an advantage for you—if you look for it. –Epictetus


You can also read my 12/11/13 post on food allergies in the workplace at and find the link for FARE’s online guide to this topic there. They have some great tips about how to survive in the workplace.


©2012 H. Hiatt/ All articles/posts on this blog are copyrighted original material that may not be reproduced in part or whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from H. Hiatt/


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