Women file discrimination lawsuit against Urth Caffe in Laguna Beach

SANTA ANA, Calif. (KABC) -- A group of women who claim they were asked to leave Urth Caffe in Laguna Beach for being Muslim filed a discrimination lawsuit against the restaurant Tuesday.

Sara Farsahk recorded a video on April 22 when police were called to escort her and her friends out of the place.

In response to the video that went viral on Facebook, Urth Caffe said the group violated its policy of giving up a table after 45 minutes during busy hours and that people were waiting in line.

But the seven women, six of whom wear head scarves, said there were plenty of tables outside and inside the restaurant. They said they were the only ones asked to leave and when they refused authorities were called.

"We did not do anything wrong, yet we were escorted out and made to feel like criminals," plaintiff Soondus Ahmed said.

The women announced their civil rights lawsuit in Santa Ana Tuesday morning.

"I felt embarrassed, outraged and shocked by the discrimination my friends and I were subjected to. We committed no crime, we violated no policy. Our only offense to Urth Caffe was that we are a group of Muslim women that visibly stood out, tarnishing their image," Farsahk said.

The owner of Urth Caffe, Shallom Berkman, said his wife is Muslim and he did not discriminate against the women.

"We're very sorry that she has this feeling that this was something racist, but that is just not the case," Berkman said.

He says the women were asked to leave because they violated company policy.

"Everybody wants an outside seat. We have this policy to make things fair and accommodate everyone who wants to enjoy Urth Caffe," Berkman said.

The plaintiffs' attorney, Mohammad Tajsar, alleges Urth Caffe has experienced other hate-related incidents, such as egg-throwing targeting Muslim customers, and wanted to avoid any more trouble.

"As a result of those incidents, Urth Caffe decided not to make its location a welcome space for these women," Tajsar said.

Laguna Beach police say they're investigating one egg-throwing incident to see if it was racially motivated.

So far, Urth Caffe has not commented on the lawsuit, but in an earlier Facebook post said "Urth Caffe sincerely hopes that its customers will withhold judgment until all of the evidence in this case comes to light."

The plaintiffs did not say how much they are seeking in damages, but it could be millions.
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