• Wed, Oct 24 2012

Jennifer Esposito Says Celiac Disease Got Her Fired At CBS; Here’s Why ‘Gluten-Free’ Can Require Medical Leave

Jennifer Esposito celiac disease

Actress Jennifer Esposito, who starred on the CBS drama “Blue Bloods,” has Celiac Disease, and according to her, it cost her a job. The actress, who was diagnosed recently and has since gone on a mission to educate others about gluten-free products and Celiac Disease, says that she requested a reduced schedule to accommodate medical treatments, as recommended by her doctors. But when she proposed cutting back on work hours, she says CBS gave her the boot.

For their part, CBS told Deadline:

Jennifer has informed us that she is only available to work on a very limited part-time schedule. As a result, she’s unable to perform the demands of her role and we regretfully had to put her character on a leave of absence. [...] She is a wonderfully talented actress and we hope that she will be able to return at some point in the future.

And earlier this week, Esposito used twitter as a bullhorn, attacking CBS for cutting her character instead of allowing her a reduced schedule during her recovery:

CBS knows PUT me on unpaid leave an has blocked me from working anywhere else after my doc said u needed a reduced schedule due to celiac

CBS didn’t listen to my doc and I collapsed on set. Which everyone saw! After a week off my doc said I could return to work but CBS

Implied that I was NOT truly ill and this was a scheme to get a raise! It’s been almost two months without brining me back to work + keeping

Me from working anywhere else! So no that article is not telling you the truth. Absolutely shameful behavior

Her situation has unleashed an outpouring of support from fans and fellow Celiac Disease patients. And, while the skeptic in me wants to point out that this whole “Jennifer Esposito vs. CBS” story is really great PR for Jennifer’s Way, her new business selling gluten-free baking products, I also tend to agree that this is probably an example of job discrimination against someone who’s suffering misunderstood medical issues.

As The Stir’s April Peveteaux pointed out, the situation “basically sounds like, ‘Hi, I need some time off for my health,’ with the response being, ‘No. You’re fired.’” And while she admits to sympathizing as a fellow Celiac Disease sufferer, she also reminds us that “it doesn’t take someone with a disease to see the disparity here. I mean, how many times was Charlie Sheen allowed to stop production due to drug addiction before he was let go? How many actors are treated for “exhaustion” while the production is held up?”

Likewise, several television stars have taken leave while undergoing breast cancer treatment, and shows have frequently written around many a pregnancy and maternity leave.

But Celiac Disease isn’t as common or understood, and with gluten-free diets becoming popular in recent years, it’s often brushed off as just another weight-loss fad; not a serious medical condition. We hope her situation is unique, but something tells us there are plenty of employers who don’t understand Celiac Disease or the requirements of patients in recovery–which can vary from avoiding gluten and getting plenty of rest (stress can exacerbate side effects), to getting vitamin drips to deal with malnutrition caused by damaged intestinal walls and malabsorption of nutrients.

Here’s hoping her case makes more people wake up to the real need not just for gluten-free muffins, but better understanding and sympathy for employees who require medical leave.

Photo: CBS

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  • http://twitter.com/laliaberry Francesca

    i was diagnosed about four years ago. i didn’t need a lot of time off work and while i’m still trying to figure out why my body is not absorbing vitamins the right way, i’ve been lucky with my work situation and my health benefits. the biggest difficulty is in educating not just co-workers, but everyone that this isn’t a choice or an issue of quantity. one bite of gluten sends my system into a downward spiral. that’s why i need my own stick of butter or will eat the toast dry. or why i don’t usually participate in the take out orders unless i know the place.
    it can be frustrating and a little lonely at times. but the alterantive is not worth it to me.

  • Alexandra

    I’ve never been diagnosed with anything, but I have digestive problems which my doctor said sound similar to IBS and I’ve noticed they go away completely if I don’t eat wheat/bread.
    My mom is still convinced I’m imagining things and guilts me into eating wheat products.

    Then again, she doesn’t believe I have asthma either, she just thinks I need to “learn how to breathe”