LOS ANGELES - The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, together with the law firm of Ross, Dixon & Bell, today filed a federal civil rights lawsuit challenging the blatantly discriminatory treatment of two Afghan-American, Southern California college students at the hands of AMC Theaters located at 'The Block' in Orange County.
The young men, Mohammad Sayed and Omar Zazia, both Cal State Fullerton undergraduates, were waiting for the opening credits to start, speaking amongst themselves in both English and Pashto. They were not being disruptive and were speaking in a tone that was consistent with the other patrons. They noticed a security guard staring at them intently. The security guard later returned with an usher and asked them to leave the theater. The only stated reason for their expulsion: they were ?speaking in a foreign tongue? and looked ?suspicious.?
?This is a case of out and out discrimination,? said Ben Wizner, staff attorney with the ACLU of Southern California. ?As a nation, we long ago settled the issue of discrimination in public accommodations. Not only did we decide it was immoral and contrary to fundamental American values, but we also made it illegal. AMC Theaters is now on notice that they are not above the law.?
The plaintiffs were paraded through the crowded theater lobby by security and escorted out of the building. Their requests to speak with a manager were rebuffed. Once outside, they were met by more than a half-dozen City of Orange police officers. The officer threatened the young men with arrest if they were to return to ?The Block? later that night.
?We couldn't believe it,? said Mohammad Sayed, a plaintiff in the legal action. ?We had just been kicked out of the theater with no explanation and no refund. We had not committed a crime and we were not disruptive or disrespectful. We weren't even allowed to speak with a manager.?
AMC Theaters is one of the largest multiplex theater chains in the nation, with over 200 theaters throughout the country, and 33 in California alone.
?We have added this case to our pro bono workload because we believe it is an extremely significant case,? said Kevin Keiffer, associate at the Orange County firm, Ross, Dixon & Bell. ?It speaks volumes about the times we live in. It reminds us that despite our troubled times, we cannot bow to fear. We cannot allow discrimination like that faced by Mohammad and Omar to become part of our everyday lives.?
?Sometimes I think that people in power get away with this sort of thing because they pick on people who are not aware of their rights,? said Omar Zazia, also a plaintiff in the suit. ?People who get mistreated are sometimes afraid to speak up. But one of the things that being an American has taught me is that you have to stand up for your rights. In other countries, you may not have any rights, but here you do, and I want people to know that you don't have to sacrifice your dignity when you come to this country.?
The lawsuit seeks to compel AMC Theaters to take all necessary steps to ensure that such discriminatory conduct does not occur in the future.