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June 14, 2018

Restaurant Chain Agrees to Update Its Policies and Hold Staff Trainings

LOS ANGELES — Seven Muslim women ejected from an Urth Caffe restaurant by its management have obtained a settlement agreement requiring the restaurant chain to hold diversity trainings for its employees and update its policies. The group of women, represented by the ACLU Foundation of Southern California and the law firm of Hadsell Stormer & Renick LLP, charged that the Urth Caffe in Laguna Beach forced them to leave because they were visibly Muslim.

Urth Caffe has also agreed, under the settlement, to clarify its seating policy to ensure it is applied consistently to all customers and to include in its employee handbook a requirement that customer diversity be respected.

The restaurant chain also agreed to open its Laguna Beach location all day on June 16 with free drinks and desserts for all customers in a public celebration of Eid al-Fitr, the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

"My friends and I took this stand to see change and ensure that any type of discriminatory conduct is never accepted or tolerated," said Sara Farsakh, one of the plaintiffs in the case. "I'm glad this has led to a positive result and I'm hopeful what happened to us will not be repeated again."

The incident occurred on the evening of April 22, 2016, when the group of friends met at the restaurant for dinner. Six of the seven women were wearing hijabs, the Muslim headscarf. They sat in a patio area outdoors.

After about an hour, when the women were having coffee and dessert, the restaurant manager told them they would have to leave because they were violating the cafe's 45-minute seating time limit during peak hours. The women pointed out numerous empty tables in the area, which was significant because placards on the tables stated, "If tables are available, you are certainly welcome to enjoy Urth for as long as you desire."

Women at a nearby table, where no one was wearing hijab, were not asked to leave even though some of them had been seated there since before the Muslim women arrived.

When the Muslim women questioned Urth Caffe's treatment of them, management immediately summoned a security guard and soon thereafter called the Laguna Beach Police Department. Two officers arrived and told the women they would have to leave. They left the cafe feeling singled out and humiliated. One of the officers, later quoted in the OC Weekly, said, "the women asked to leave were very nice, cooperative and still had their desserts and coffees on their tables."

"Today's agreement demonstrates that rising hostility towards Muslims across the country is not inevitable," said Mohammad Tajsar, staff attorney at the ACLU SoCal. "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."

The civil lawsuit brought against the restaurant chain was for violation of California's Unruh Civil Rights Act that states places of public accommodation are required to provide all persons full and equal services regardless of their religion.

"The courage of these women to shine a light on this discriminatory treatment sends a strong message," said Hadsell Stormer & Renick partner Lori Rifkin. "This settlement enforces the legal responsibility of businesses to ensure they treat all of their customers equally."

Terms of the settlement in the case are public and can be read at https://www.aclusocal.org/sites/default/files/aclu_socal_farsakh_v_urth_settlement_release_agreement.pdf.

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