Cafe Countersues Muslim Women It Ejected

          SANTA ANA, Calif. (CN) – A Laguna Beach cafe that called police to eject several young Muslim women wearing headscarves, and was sued for it, has countersued them for trespassing.
     Seven women in their 20s sued the Urth Caffe in Orange County Court on May 2, claiming that on a Friday evening in April the cafe, a popular hangout with local Muslims and tourists, asked them to leave the half-empty cafe, then called police to eject them.
     Their lawsuit says an Urth Caffe manager cited a policy that requires customers to leave after 45 minutes if the cafe is busy. But the women, most of whom were wearing hijabs, say they were victims of religious discrimination after the cafe had been the focus of several hate crimes, including attacks with eggs, tire slashings, and abusive comments.
     “Urth Caffe’s removal of plaintiffs was motivated not by plaintiffs’ violation of any company policy, but by its desire to cleanse the restaurant of visibly Muslim patrons who have been targets of recent neighborhood hate,” they said in their 10-page lawsuit.
     But in its June 22 cross-complaint, Urth Caffe says its staff merely asked the women to move, because they had pulled three “in-demand” tables together. The cafe says it offered to move them to another spot.
     The cafe says other hijab-wearing women had lined up for a table and dined there “without incident.”
     The cafe’s attorney, David Yerushalmi, with the American Freedom Law Center of Chandler, Ariz., called the women’s lawsuit a “fraud and a hoax on the courts and the media,” and their claim that they were asked to leave because of their headscarves is “laughable.”
     He also said one of the cafe owners is a Muslim.
     “The women who now claim victim status were not asked to leave, but only to abide by the cafe’s policy to give up their high-demand outside patio table after 45 minutes to allow other customers, including those wearing hijabs, to enjoy the experience,” Yerushalmi said in a statement on the American Freedom Law Center website.
     However, lead plaintiff Sara Khalil Farsakh said in a Facebook post that she and the others were told to leave because they are “visibly Muslim.”
     “I can’t even begin to express the feelings of embarrassment and humiliation as police officers were called to escort out a group of Muslim women from a restaurant. Shame on you Urth Caffe for your disgusting and racist treatment of paying customers,” Farsakh wrote in a post that went viral.
     Video embedded in the post shows numerous empty tables inside and outside the cafe.
     A second video depicts two smiling police officers confirming that the women are not being asked to leave because they violated any policy but because the cafe has the right to refuse service.
     The women’s attorney, Mohammad Tajsar, with Hadsell, Stormer & Renick in Pasadena, said the statements in the counterclaim are “factually inaccurate” and that his clients did not trespass.
     Tajsar said it is unusual for a cafe or restaurant to call police to free up a table.
     “Regardless of what they say about their policy, it is clear there are empty tables all over the restaurant that night, and it is also clear that the police were called and told our clients to move,” Tajsar said in an interview. “This doesn’t happen every day. It’s not something that’s a usual course of practice.”
     He accused the cafe of “placating the haters and the racists who had been fueling an animosity toward their clientele.”
     Tajsar said it is “telling” that the cafe hired Yerushalmi, a lawyer who has “made a career out of crusading against Muslims in American public life.”
     On his firm’s website, Yerushalmi calls plaintiff Farsakh “a college-age activist for Palestinian causes who self-promotes her involvement in radical organizations,” and said that the Council on American-Islamic Relations was “behind the scenes organizing this fraudulent lawsuit.”
     Tajsar called Yerushalmi’s claims “baseless,” “racist” and “fantastical.”
     “This particular counterclaim is clearly set up to intimidate our clients and silence them following their coming out in protest over what Urth Caffe has done,” Tajsar said.
     The women seek punitive damages for religious discrimination, and an injunction.
     The cafe seeks punitive damages for trespass and “actual harm” caused by trespass and the subsequent media posts.

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