Petco Won’t Sell Persians Springtime Goldfish

      LOS ANGELES (CN) – Petco won’t sell goldfish to Persians on the first day of spring, and has a store policy against it, customers claim in a civil rights lawsuit.
     Brother and sister Sam and Samira Mojabi and Talin Sardarbegians sued Petco Animal Supplies Stores on August 28 in Superior Court.
     “It’s weird that they [Petco] just decided not to sell to them,” their attorney Henrik Sardarbegian told Courthouse News. “They gave no reason – just that it was a decision from headquarters. Once we go to discovery we’ll find out what reasoning led to this decision.”
     Sam Mojabi went to the Petco store in Camarillo on March 20 to buy goldfish for Nowruz, the Persian New Year. A traditional Nowruz table includes wheat or barley sprouts growing in a dish to represent rebirth, grain puddings and dried fruits for affluence and health, vinegar, garlic, apples and hyacinth or narcissus flowers. Also a goldfish, in a clear bowl. The fish represents Pisces, which the sun leaves at the end of the astral year. Goldfish also symbolize good luck and good fortune, Sardarbegian said.
     Petco’s refusal to sell goldfish to Persians may have arisen from a mistaken belief that people intend to kill the fish, the attorney said.
     “They absolutely do not harm the fish. People want the fish to live as long as possible, because the longer a family keeps the fish alive, the more fortune and life is brought to them during the year,” he said. In Iran, many homes include indoor ponds for goldfish.
     But Petco refused to sell Mojabi a goldfish, because of his “Persian background and religious beliefs” even though he explained he intended to take good care of it. The lawsuit claims this denial was “systematic.”
     “Specifically, Petco asked its patrons if they were of Persian descent and declined to sell them goldfish,” the complaint states. “Moreover, Petco and its management had specifically sent out memorandum commanding its retail staff to decline the sale of such fish to Persians.”
     Nowruz, which means “new day,” is a secular holiday with roots in the Zoroastrian religion, which is more than 3,000 years old. It is celebrated by around 300 million people of diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds in several countries, particularly Iran, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, the Balkans, and parts of Central Asia and Russia.
     “Petco discriminated against plaintiffs, as well as other Persians or those with Persian or Iranian backgrounds, during the time of Nowruz by declining the sale of goldfish to those with Iranian or Persian backgrounds but allowing other non-Persians to purchase goldfish regardless of how well the fish would be taken care of,” the complaint states.
     People who were not Persian were not asked their intent before being allowed to buy goldfish, Sardarbegian said.
     “Right now, a 15-year-old boy who wants to buy a goldfish to feed to his snake could go and buy one,” he said. “My client was buying food for the fish. If the point of the policy is to prevent animal cruelty, what measures do they have in place to stop it when it actually happens?”
     Many more people have contacted him about similar discrimination after he filed the lawsuit, he said.
     The lawsuit states that refusing people service because of their religious beliefs or ethnicity is not only illegal, it is as “repugnant” as charging women or black customers higher prices than men or Caucasian customers, or refusing service to gay people.
     Petco’s policy also has “tended to cause discontent, animosity, harm, resentment or envy among the various cultures, and is especially troubling, arbitrary and invidious at a time when our nation and its citizens are working harder then ever to mend racial and cultural divisions across the country,” the complaint adds.
     Petco told Courthouse News in an email that the company is looking into the allegations.
     “At Petco, we have a strong commitment to animal welfare and responsible pet ownership and we do not tolerate discrimination of any sort. While we do not comment on pending litigation, we are looking into the specifics, if any, of this claim,” a spokeswoman wrote.
     The plaintiffs seek actual and statutory damages for civil rights violations and violations of the Business and Professions Code. They also want civil penalties of $2,500 for each business code violation.
     Sardarbegian is based in Glendale.

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