Last month, Sara Farsakh and six friends were catching up over dessert at Urth Caffe in Laguna Beach when they were asked to leave. "I am completely appalled," Farsakh wrote on Facebook the following day, "by the racist and Islamophobic treatment some friends and I were subjected to by staff at Urth Caffé in Laguna Beach last night."
She added, "I truly believe that because I was sitting with visibly Muslim women, we were singled out when we were asked to leave."
Soondus Ahmed was one of the women dining with Farsakh. She told the Los Angeles Times that the incident "left us shaken, disrespected and shocked."
Farsakh said she and her friends had ordered dinner from the cafe's counter at 7:15 p.m. After they had finished eating, a few returned to the counter to order dessert and coffee. Around 8 p.m., they were approached by a cafe employee and, according to Faraskh, told they would need to leave within 10 minutes because they had exceeded the restaurant's 45-minute time limit.
Farsakh and her friends argued that ten minutes wouldn't be enough to finish their dessert, and pointed out a number of empty tables in the establishment. According to the cafe's policy, the 45-minute time limit only applies when the restaurant is full. "If tables are available," the policy reads, "you are certainly welcome to enjoy Urth for as long as you desire."
But the employee wouldn't back down, and eventually called police to escort the women out. Ahmed said, "We committed no crime, and it felt surreal that we were escorted out."
Farsakh said that nearby, a table of white diners was shocked that by the employee's request. "They told us they had been sitting far longer than we had but had never been told to prepare to leave," Farsakh wrote.
Urth Caffe responded to the incident in April with a statement posted to Facebook. "Urth Caffe categorically denies any and all claims of racial or religious discrimination against Sara Farsakh," it reads.
The women are seeking compensation for "loss of dignity." But there's more at stake, says Ahmed. "I am doing this for Muslim American women who did not have courage or means to speak up when this happens to them."
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.