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Seven Muslim Women Sue Urth Caffe For Alleged Discrimination

Seven Muslim women are suing Urth Caffee in Laguna Beach for discrimination. They allege thy were targeted on April 22 for being "visibly Muslim," while wearing head scarves. In addition, they say they were ordered to leave the restaurant before they finished eating.

Soondus Ahmed, a software engineer, said the April 22 incident "left us shaken, disrespected and shocked." Ahmed said her group was ushered out by two police officers after a manager said they had violated the eatery's policy allowing just a 45-minute stay during peak times. "We committed no crime, and it felt surreal that we were escorted out."

Sara Farsakh, said the manager "came up to us and said it was rush hour," but around us, "there were at least 20 empty tables." Farsakh, a college student, said she had gone to the cafe once before with her husband without a problem. All of the plaintiffs either live in Orange County or were born there. Six of the seven regularly wear a hijab.

Their attorney, Mohammad Tajsar, said there was a pattern "of neighborhood hate crimes against Muslims," including egg-throwing, tire slashings, and racial taunts during March and April this year, even though the restaurant is popular with the large Muslim American population in Orange County as well as tourists and students visiting from the Middle East. He said, "These women were singled out and targeted" because Urth Caffe "chose not to make this location a welcome space."

Restaurant managers have not yet issued any comment. Tajsar went on to say, They are also seeking compensation for "loss of dignity." Laguna Beach police officers who arrived at the scene that evening "did see empty tables, but there was no survey done of how many people were in the restaurant," department spokesman Jason Kravetz said.

The manager called the police to let them know that the women did not respond to requests to leave. Kravetz said, "they very respectfully left, having paid their bill." According to the lawsuit filed in Orange County Superior Court, the women had gathered on a Friday night to meet old and new friends over pizza, pecan pie and coffee when a manager interrupted them around 8 p.m. to ask if they were waiting for more orders.

The manager then returned once more before 8:15 pm. saying he "expected a busy evening and needed to clear tables of patrons who had been seated for longer than 45 minutes." Farsakh remembered, "I felt so embarrassed because we were just talking among ourselves, not doing any harm, yet he demanded that we leave." Ahmed said, "I am doing this for Muslim American women who did not have courage or means to speak up when this happens to them."

Goff Stepian, a surfing instructor who has called Laguna Beach home for more than 30 years, said "I'm bitter and sorry that happened to them. Everybody wants the right to express their culture."

Photo: LA Times

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