A prominent Hamas-supporting Islamist organization is probably regretting its effort to silence a former employee by filing a defamation lawsuit against her in a federal court in Minnesota three years ago. Not only has the case, filed by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), been dismissed, the targeted employee has filed a lawsuit of her own, prompting another round of attention to the allegations that CAIR was trying to bury.
CAIR’s Lawsuit against Lori Saroya
In 2021, CAIR filed a defamation suit against Lori Saroya, one of its star employees, alleging that she had falsely accused the organization of sexual harassment and religious discrimination. It was a clear attempt to silence Saroya, who had worked for CAIR from 2006 to 2018. After leaving CAIR, she became one of its most vocal critics. In addition to accusing the organization’s leaders of sexual harassment and religious discrimination, she had accused CAIR of working with the Muslim Brotherhood to promote Hamas’s terrorist agenda, acting as an unregistered foreign agent, and working to replace the U.S. Constitution with Sharia.
In its 2021 lawsuit, CAIR claimed that she “published false statements about CAIR on multiple social media platforms using various forms of her name, initials, and pseudonyms.” CAIR also claimed that she hoped to harm her former employer by steering donors to fund her own American Muslim Civil Rights Center.
In addition to accusing Saroya of defaming the organization, CAIR called on the court to issue an injunction against her, prohibiting her from making more statements about the organization. It claimed that Saroya breached her confidentiality agreement, which Saroya claimed she never signed.
The lawsuit against Saroya was dismissed — at CAIR’s request — in January 2022, after the court instructed the organization to provide proof that Saroya’s statements about the group were false.
Saroya Fires Back
Two years later, in mid-January, 2024, Saroya fired back with a lawsuit of her own. Saroya’s complaint centers on a press release that CAIR published in early 2022, after its suit was dismissed. The complaint asserts that the press release — which is still available on the organization’s website — falsely accused Saroya of “cyberstalking” CAIR staffers and volunteers after she left the organization. Saroya contends that the press release also misreports the outcome of the lawsuit CAIR had filed against her in 2021, falsely declaring that the judge had ruled in CAIR’s favor, when in fact the judge dismissed its case against Saroya.
“Knowing that it was unable to silence Ms. Saroya with its prior lawsuit, which was dismissed with prejudice [meaning it cannot be refiled], and concerned that attention would turn to its defeat, CAIR decided to issue the Press Release, not only falsely accusing her of ‘cyberstalking,’ but remarkably claiming” that Saroya was unable to defeat the lawsuit, her complaint alleges. Saroya asserts that the press release hindered her ultimately successful campaign to serve on the City Council in Blaine, Minnesota.
“As a result of CAIR’s knowing and reckless publications of outrageously false and defamatory statements, Ms. Saroya has suffered significant injury to her reputation and emotional distress, including in the form of online bullying and harassment, alienation from members of her religious community, and loss of employment opportunities,” the lawsuit claims.
Saroya’s complaint includes other details about CAIR’s inner workings. Upon telling CAIR founder and executive director, Nihad Awad, that she was going to leave, Awad implored her to stay in her post, the complaint alleges. When, upon her departure, she refused to sign a confidentiality agreement, declaring that she would never abandon her right to speak truthfully about CAIR, Awad allegedly told her that “CAIR is a very powerful organization” which Saroya interpreted as a threat, the complaint asserts. Saroya nevertheless went public with her concerns about CAIR’s inner workings, prompting a lawsuit from the organization.
Saroya is not the only former CAIR associate to raise concerns about the organization, the suit alleges. Former staffers have gone public with accusations of sexual harassment by CAIR leaders, and one of its national board members, Parvez Ahmed, a professor at the University of North Florida, authored a memo calling on two high-ranking CAIR staffers, Awad and Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper, to resign, “because of their lack of transparency,” “undisclosed foreign funding,” and “harassment” which would eventually “undermine the organization’s ability to carry out its stated mission,” the complaint alleges. However, it goes on, “this recommendation was rejected by the board, allowing the pattern of discrimination and harassment to continue.”
CAIR did not reply to a request for comment.
John Rossomando has written extensively about national security, counter-terrorism, and counter-Islamism.