Urth Caffe to Hold Diversity Training, Offer Free Food in Laguna Beach as Part of Settlement With Muslim Women

Soondus Ahmed, one of a group of women who filed a lawsuit against Urth Caffe after being ejected from the Laguna Beach location, speaks about the suit on May 3, 2016. (Credit: KTLA)

Soondus Ahmed, one of a group of women who filed a lawsuit against Urth Caffe after being ejected from the Laguna Beach location, speaks about the suit on May 3, 2016. (Credit: KTLA)

Urth Caffe reached a settlement with a group of Muslim of women who said they were unjustly ejected from the Southern California chain’s Laguna Beach location in 2016, an advocacy group announced on Thursday.

The American Civil Liberties Union said Urth Caffe agreed to conduct training at its Los Angeles headquarters for  employees and offer free drinks and desserts to all customers at its Laguna Beach location on Saturday in celebration of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan.

A group of seven women claimed that on April 22, 2016, a restaurant manager at the Urth Caffee in Laguna Beach told them they had to leave because they were violating the restaurant’s 45-minute seating limit during peaking hours.

The women, six of whom were wearing hijabs, responded by pointing out unused tables with placards that stated, “If tables are available, you are certainly welcome to enjoy Urth for as long as you desire,” according to ACLU.

One of the women, Sara Farsakh, shot a video of what appeared to be several open tables at the restaurant that evening.

Management then called a security guard and the Laguna Beach Police Department, who asked the women to leave, ACLU said.

“Our only offense to Urth Caffe was that we were a group of Muslim women that stood out, visibly stood out tarnishing their image,” Farsakh said at a news conference after the incident.

Corporal Derek Short with the Police Department later told OC Weekly that the women were nice and cooperative as their desserts and coffees remained at their tables.

“A business can refuse service if they want,” a spokesperson for the agency told the paper.

The women filed a lawsuit against the chain claiming discrimination. ACLU said Urth Caffe in turn threatened to sue the women for defamation.

In a Facebook post following the incident, Urth Caffe repudiated the allegations, adding that the company neither condoned nor tolerated discrimination of any kind.

Urth Caffe continued to deny the accusations, according to Thursday’s settlement.

In addition to diversity trainings and the event celebrating Ramadan, the chain said it would amend its policies to ensure consistency in enforcing the 45-minute seating limit.

The rule will apply to patio tables when at least 10 customers are standing in line at the register, at which point the restaurant can ask guests to share their table, reorder and choose a new table or give up their table, the agreement said.

“My friends and I took this stand to see change and ensure that any type of discriminatory conduct is never accepted or tolerated,” Farsakh said in a statement. “I’m glad this has led to a positive result and I’m hopeful what happened to us will not be repeated again.”