A former employee who alleged rampant sexual discrimination and harassment inside the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) was using "disturbingly false allegations" in a "systemic and continuous internet smear campaign" to get people to stop donating to, or working with the organization, CAIR said in a lawsuit filed last spring.
Lori Saroya's "public lies are damaging CAIR and the American Muslim community in ways that are significant and long lasting," CAIR's lawsuit claimed. But CAIR may have seen that damage as less harmful than a discovery process which could expose organizational secrets.
CAIR abruptly filed a stipulation to dismiss the lawsuit with prejudice, meaning it cannot be refiled, on Friday. CAIR had told the federal court in Minnesota that it would file an amended complaint by then.
Throughout the fall, the two sides fought over CAIR's refusal to answer a series of defense interrogatories. While CAIR claimed it had provided much of the information, some requests "were interposed solely to annoy, oppress, harass and unduly burden CAIR."
The resulting discovery, Saroya's attorneys argued, would show she was not lying about "sexual harassment, gender discrimination, retaliation against those who raised these issues, gross financial mismanagement, disregard of basic governance requirements and duplicity about its raising of foreign funds, and at whether CAIR has been disingenuous with its Board, donors, chapters and volunteers, as well as the Muslim community at large."
For example, CAIR objected to her request for internal investigative reports involving misconduct within CAIR's national chapters because they "are distinct from the National organization."
But Saroya already produced a sampling of internal communications which challenged CAIR's assertion. In her initial response to CAIR's lawsuit, Saroya claimed that Executive Director Nihad Awad nixed the Dallas chapter's decision to hire a non-Muslim to run the chapter. Awad "found her to be not pro-Palestine enough and [indicated] that her writing on domestic violence was 'vulgar and disgusting.'"
Awad "threatened to dis-affiliate" the Dallas chapter if the job offer was not rescinded.
To keep the incident from becoming public, a CAIR staff attorney suggested paying the applicant $10,000 in two payments spaced five months apart, "with a non-disclosure agreement."
"The most serious risk she presents right now is in the form of public pressure and defamatory speech against" the Dallas-Fort Worth chapter, Danette Zaghari-Mask wrote.
CAIR, Saroya's response claimed, "spends substantial amounts of donors' money in order to threaten, intimidate and sue those who have the courage to speak about CAIR's culture of discrimination and misogyny," and pay settlements in exchange for their silence.
While CAIR denies this claim, National Public Radio reported last spring that it spoke with "18 former employees at the national office and several prominent chapters who said there was a general lack of accountability when it came to perceived gender bias, religious bias or mismanagement. Many of those interviewed, both men and women, asked NPR not to use their names for fear of legal or professional retaliation."
Saroya ran CAIR's Minnesota chapter before moving to Washington to work as its chapter development director.
In a Facebook post Sunday, Saroya said it was clear that CAIR "dropped its lawsuit before it was forced to produce the documents that demonstrated the truth of what many of us have been saying about the organization, and before its officers and board members had to answer questions, under oath, from my attorneys."
"There should be no mistake about what happened here," she added. "The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) tried to silence those of us who have spoken out, and to frighten others into silence.
"But CAIR failed. It lost. We won."