Sunday, August 14, 2022

US restaurant chain in hijab row orders diversity training

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LOS ANGELES: A California restaurant chain accused of kicking out customers because they were Muslim is to offer free drinks for the end of Ramazan and undergo diversity training, campaigners said.

The Urth Caffe branch in Laguna Beach was sued by seven women who alleged they were removed in April 2016 because they were wearing hijabs, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

“My friends and I took this stand to see change and ensure that any type of discriminatory conduct is never accepted or tolerated,” Sara Farsakh, one of the plaintiffs, said in a statement from the ACLU.

“I’m glad this has led to a positive result and I’m hopeful what happened to us will not be repeated again.”

The group of friends, six of whom were wearing headscarves, say they were enjoying coffee and dessert when the manager told them to leave because they were violating the 45-minute peak-time seating limit.

The women pointed to numerous empty tables and a nearby group, none of whom were wearing hijabs, who had not been asked to leave despite being seated longer.

The friends questioned their treatment and the restaurant called the police, who told the women they would have to go.

“Today’s agreement demonstrates that rising hostility towards Muslims across the country is not inevitable,” said Mohammad Tajsar, staff attorney at the ACLU’s Southern California branch.

“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 Urth Caffe has agreed to ensure its seating policy is applied consistently and to include in its employee handbook a requirement that customer diversity is respected.

The chain will also serve free drinks and desserts on June 16 in Laguna Beach, a two-hour drive south of Los Angeles, to mark Eid-ul-Fitr, a hugely significant date marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramazan.

It will conduct diversity training for all area supervisors, who will go back to the company’s seven southern California branches with what they have learned.

The owner of the Laguna Beach branch, Shallom Berkman, was not immediately available for comment but denied discriminating against the women at the time, pointing out that his wife was Muslim.

The restaurant continues to reject claims of wrongdoing and had even filed a counter-suit against the women before the settlement, claiming they disrupted business.

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