Council on American-Islamic Relations Drops Suit Against Former Board Member Who Spoke Out On Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Retaliation

MINNEAPOLIS, Jan. 10, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — The Council on American-Islamic Relations (“CAIR”), a powerful lobbying and advocacy organization which describes itself as a civil rights organization representing Muslim-Americans, has withdrawn the federal lawsuit it filed in May 2021 in the United States District Court in Minneapolis against its own former national Board member and employee over her public statements alleging sexual harassment and discrimination.

CAIR had accused defendant Lori Saroya, a nationally-respected civil rights advocate on behalf of Muslims, of defamation for statements she made about evidence that the organization had engaged in sexual harassment and discrimination and that it had deceived the public and donors about its fundraising practices. Ms. Saroya filed a lengthy response to this lawsuit which included exhibits, placing on the public record the evidence supporting each of the statements that she had made.

On January 7, 2022, CAIR notified the Court and Ms. Saroya that it was dropping all of its claims against her, dismissing them with prejudice.

Ms. Saroya, who had founded the Minnesota chapter of CAIR before being asked by CAIR to serve on its national board in 2015, resigned from the organization in May 2018.  She is among a growing chorus of former CAIR personnel and other Muslim-Americans around the country who have spoken out about the conduct they’ve experienced and witnessed at CAIR. CAIR also sought a Court order prohibiting Ms. Saroya from speaking out about her concerns about sexual harassment, discrimination and fundraising practices at CAIR, and alleged that she had breached the confidentiality agreement that it required her to sign when she commenced her employment with CAIR.

Ms. Saroya said: “The reason I have refused to accede to CAIR’s demand that I stay silent and that I have defended myself against this retaliatory lawsuit is this: I wanted to send a strong message that women will not be silenced. Those of us who have spoken up about CAIR intend to continue to do so, more vigorously than ever. Indeed, CAIR’s unsuccessful lawsuit has inspired me, and others like me, to do more to amplify the voices of victims of sexual abuse, gender discrimination and sexual harassment within the CAIR network, and to help them get the justice, the accountability, and the healing that those victims deserve.”

CAIR’s withdrawal of its lawsuit against Ms. Saroya comes while her motions for Court orders requiring the organization to turn over documents and other evidence that it had been withholding were pending before the Court. CAIR’s decision to drop its case comes before any of the sworn depositions of its officers and Board members about the subject matter of Ms. Saroya’s statements had taken place.

“First and foremost, this is a victory for Ms. Saroya and those who, like her, have had the historic courage to challenge a powerful organization over issues of sexual harassment, sexual discrimination and retaliatory conduct. It sends a message that voices like that of Ms. Saroya can’t easily be silenced, as CAIR obviously hoped to silence Ms. Saroya here. And it is a victory for the First Amendment, which exists precisely to protect all Americans against heavy-handed attempts to stifle criticism,” said Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr attorney Jeff Robbins, who led Ms. Saroya’s legal team. 

Ms. Saroya’s legal defense team consisted of national law firm Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr attorneys Jeff Robbins, Alain Baudry, Steven Kerbaugh, Joseph Lipchitz and Kelsey Marron. Mr. Robbins, Mr. Lipchitz and Ms. Marron practice in the firm’s Boston office; Messrs. Baudry and Kerbaugh practice in the firm’s Minneapolis, Minnesota office.

The case is CAIR Foundation, Inc., d/b/a Council on American-Islamic Relations, & CAIR v. Lori Saroya in the United States District Court District of Minnesota.

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SOURCE Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr LLP

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