Back in the spring of 2016, my colleague Gabriel San Roman wrote about seven Muslim women who had been ejected from an Urth Caffe in Laguna Beach for being … well … Muslim.
On Thursday, the American Civil Liberties Union announced that the restaurant chain settled a religious discrimination case the women brought by agreeing to:
- hold diversity training for its employees;
- update its policies regarding bouncing people;
- clarify its seating policy to ensure it is applied consistently to all customers;
- include in its employee handbook a requirement that customer diversity be respected;
- and, at the chain’s Laguna Beach location, give away free drinks and desserts for all customers all day this Saturday in a public celebration of Eid al-Fitr, the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Six of the seven women who met at the same restaurant for dinner on April 26, 2016, were wearing hijabs or headscarves. Sitting at a table in an outdoor patio area, they were having coffee and dessert about an hour after being seated when the restaurant manager told them they would have to leave because they were in violation of the establishment’s 45-minute limit for seating during peak hours.
But, as the women pointed out to the manager, there were several empty tables around them. And, get this: many of those tables held placards that stated, “If tables are available, you are certainly welcome to enjoy Urth for as long as you desire.”
Meanwhile, women who sat at a nearby table were not told to leave, even though they had been sitting there before the party confronted by the manager had been seated.
Of course, none of the women at that table were wearing hijabs.
When the Muslim women questioned their treatment by Urth Caffe, a security guard was summoned and soon thereafter Laguna Beach cops arrived. Two police officers told the women they would have to leave, which they did, feeling singled out and humiliated.
However, the victims of the discrimination did not let it lie. They contacted the ACLU, and lawyers from the ACLU Foundation of Southern California and the law firm of Hadsell Stormer & Renick LLP agreed to represent them.
A civil lawsuit was brought against the restaurant chain for violation of California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act, which states that places of public accommodation are required to provide all persons full and equal services regardless of their religion.
“Today’s agreement demonstrates that rising hostility towards Muslims across the country is not inevitable,” says Mohammad Tajsar, staff attorney at the ACLU SoCal, in a press release sent out Thursday. “People of good conscience—like the women who brought this action—continue to successfully fight Islamophobia in all its forms, whether perpetrated by the government or by private businesses in our backyards.”
Sara Farsakh, one of the plaintiffs in the case, says in the same statement she is pleased with the outcome.
“My friends and I took this stand to see change and ensure that any type of discriminatory conduct is never accepted or tolerated,” notes Farsakh. “I’m glad this has led to a positive result and I’m hopeful what happened to us will not be repeated again.”
Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.