Seven Muslim women have filed a civil rights lawsuit against Urth Caffé alleging that the restaurant chain discriminated against them when it expelled the group from its Laguna Beach restaurant for being visibly Muslim. The café ejected the women, who were seated outside near the entrance, and called the police even though their posted seating policy was apparently not violated. The women’s complaint alleges violations of the Unruh Civil Rights Act, a California law which prohibits racial or religious bias in the provision of goods or services.
The women, six of whom wear the hijab or headscarf, visited Urth Caffé in Laguna Beach for dinner, followed by coffee and dessert. After approximately an hour, when they were still finishing their orders and there were open tables in the restaurant, Urth Caffé management approached their table and instructed them. The manager claimed the women were violating their seating policy, which explicitly states “if tables are available, you are certainly welcome to enjoy Urth for as long as you desire.” Urth then called the police, who escorted the women out of the restaurant. No other tables were asked to leave, despite white patrons who had been seated longer. “We are bringing this case on behalf of all American Muslim women, so that we can practice our religion openly and freely,” said Soondus Ahmed, one of the plaintiffs.
The restaurant’s decision to expel the Muslim women from their restaurant comes at a time of increasing civil rights claims by those apparently Muslim. This includes the removal of two Muslim passengers from Southwest Airlines flights and of a Sikh man from a bus in Texas. The case attracted significant attention online when a cell phone video of the incident, showing tables in the restaurant half empty, went viral and was watched more than 330,000 times on Facebook.
“Urth Caffe’s expulsion of this group of women is a throwback to the days of ‘Whites only’ signs and colored water fountains, with Muslims now being the convenient targets of discrimination,” said Mohammad Tajsar, an attorney at Pasadena-based Hadsell Stormer & Renick LLP who represents the women. Todd Gallinger of Gallinger Law, also legal counsel on the case, stated, “in California our law and our values prohibit this type of prejudice and we are confident that Urth will ultimately be held responsible for their actions.”