Muslim Women Suing Urth Caffé, Alleging Discrimination for Seating Flap

Urth's posted policy
Urth's posted policy
Courtesy of Sara Farsakh

ORIGINAL POST, 5/3/16, 6:38 A.M.: Sara Farsakh and six of her friends with her the night of the Urth Caffé debacle have officially filed a civil rights lawsuit, alleging that the Laguna Beach restaurant discriminated against them for being visibly Muslim. 

But in an ABC 7 interview, Urth Caffé owner, Shallom Burkman, assures the cafe was simply following their time policy, "everyone wants an outside seat, we have this policy to make things fair and accommodate anyone who wants to enjoy Urth Caffé," he said. He even shares that his wife is Muslim and he is Jewish and they like to say, "they're a sign for world peace."  

"We're very sorry that she [Farsakh] has this feeling that this was something racist but that is just not the case." says Burkman. He even offered Farsakh a meal on the house—um, is that really the best you can do under discrimination allegations? 

"Urth Caffé'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 who represents the women, in a statement. "Urth Caffé's attempt to whitewash its upscale clientele by using its seating policy as a justification to expel those who outwardly appear Muslim is both immoral and illegal, and should have no place in Orange County's diverse community." 

Farsakh's attorney went on to state, "Rather than providing a comfortable and safe environment for all of its customers, Urth Caffé appeased the Islamophobia of disgruntled neighbors and attempting to cleanse its location of women it considered to be outsiders to the predominantly white Laguna Beach community." 

A press conference is scheduled for today at the Plaza of the Flags in the Civic Center. Meanwhile, in an effort to restrict media-related reviews, Yelp has started monitoring any new posts for Urth Caffé's Laguna Beach location—you know, because Yelp is so objective.

UPDATE, 4:40 P.M.
In a press conference earlier today at Plaza of the Flags in the Santa Ana Civic Center, local TV stations set up their cameras to avoid the homeless man dancing behind the seven Muslim women suing Urth Caffé and their attorneys, Todd Gallinger and Mohammad Tajsar, who revealed that the Laguna Beach coffee shop has taken an aggressive, rather than apologetic, stance towards the women.

“Unfortunately, rather than taking action to address their discrimination,” a legal representative for the women stated, “Urth Caffe compounded their illegal actions by threatening to sue our clients for assault and defamation if we were to bring the suit filed today.”

Gallinger—a former candidate for the Irvine City Council—went on to cite the Unruh Civil Rights Act, the landmark California law that bans discrimination on the basis of race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation and skin color. “It is unfortunate that Urth has chosen to violate this law,” Gallinger says.

When asked about accounts of her and her friends occupying the cafe for hours on end with a majority of her party not ordering anything, Farsakh said those accusations are “absolutely false.” She insists her friends arrived at 7:15 p.m., and were asked to leave around 8:15 p.m. Tajsar and Gallinger’s clients are seeking compensatory and punitive damages that could “well be in the millions.” Gallinger went on to assure that his clients have enough evidence for the suit—“You don’t have to be called a racial slur to be clearly discriminated against.”

The seven women and their legal team believe Urth Caffé is guilty of favoring their clientele who are uncomfortable by any Muslim presence. “We know that plenty of neighbors had expressed some dissatisfaction and frustration at the increasing presence of Muslims and people who appear to be Muslim at that Urth Caffé location,” Gallinger said, adding he has witnesses that can support this claim. “All of this happened within a span of weeks, so there is a direct relationship with what occurred at Urth Caffé and the weeks in the run up to April 22nd and what occurred that night to the women.”

When asked about Burkman’s wife being Muslim herself, Farsakh said, “That, to me, does not matter and is irrelevant to what happened to us.”

The Weekly’s attempts to contact Urth Caffé for a statement have led to relayed phone calls and unanswered voicemails. We’ll be here to give you your say, Urth!


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