One of the best methods for judging the health of any organization — be it a large company, small business, or a non-profit group — is the issue of employee turnover.
Using this metric, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which bills itself as the nation’s preeminent Muslim civil rights organization, appears to be severely dysfunctional. The organization’s list of chapters is constantly being updated as new executive directors start and stop, and as new chapters attempt to rise and others fold. Today there are 27 CAIR affiliates listed (down from over 30 in years past) and only 17 are currently led by leaders who have been there three or more years. Many chapters are without leadership and have been for some time.
Now, a new lawsuit is providing an insider account of the day-to-day workings of CAIR’s largest branch: The four chapters that comprise CAIR’s California branch (CAIR-CA). The lawsuit alleges a toxic culture and poor leadership, which suggests CAIR’s devotion to progressive civil and employment rights practices may be only a façade for something more insidious.
On April 24, Susanne Arani filed a 42-page lawsuit (PDF available here) against CAIR-CA. Arani served as a lawyer in the San Diego office, working on and off since 2015. On April 9, 2019, Arani was fired by Dustin Craun, her new boss, CAIR-CA's greenhorn executive director who took over in January.
Arani alleges discrimination based on religion, gender, age, and political views; breaches of attorney-client privilege; wrongful termination and retaliation; failure to hire; and hostile work environment.
Arani offers multiple allegations against both Craun and the upper levels of CAIR-CA leadership responsible for overseeing him, while at the same time offering a highly suggestive glimpse at the ideology at work behind the walls of CAIR. Specifically, anti-Americanism and sexism seem to run rampant.
Arani claims that near the end of February, while considering a much more expensive new office space that featured a large American flag out front, Craun told her, "If I would have to see that flag every day, I am going to want to put bullets or darts through it. I've been thinking of at least taking the American flag [the building's American flag] and hiding it in our office so no one has to look at it." In addition, Arani claims that Craun wrote on his Facebook page, "This country [America] is disgusting," on March 30, 2019.
Arani also expresses frustration for alleged pay disparities between men and women and further notes that a 2016-2017 audit of CAIR-Los Angeles’ office found it paying its female workers substantially less than it paid its male employees. Arani also claims knowledge of CAIR-CA executive directors’ salaries, asserting that a longtime executive director of CAIR’s San Francisco office and lawyer Zahra Billoo made less than non-lawyer Craun. Based on these points and other examples she cites, Arani concludes "that said salary differentials and positions for females versus males are the pattern and practice at CAIR-California."
Arani also alleges sexist statements by Craun, such as asking a male bookkeeper about the office’s female workers: "How do you deal with all these girls?"
Arani lays into Craun, going into detailed allegations about how she regarded him as unqualified. She claims Craun "has never worked in an office ... never managed staff ... never spent any considerable amount of time in San Diego ... never fundraised," and "has no experience in law, policy or government." She alleges that Craun "does not work eight hours a day on a consistent basis" and sometimes takes mid-day naps.
Further, Arani objects to her and a co-worker being credit-checked for their positions while Craun was not. She alleges "that a simple credit check would have eliminated [Craun] as a viable candidate for the position of executive director." She further alleges Craun yelled at employees, failed to do his primary job of fundraising, insisted on mandatory prayer before staff meetings, and allowed his wife to use the office like it "was her own living room." Arani additionally makes more serious legal accusations about the security of confidential client files under Craun’s leadership, both before and after her termination.
As much as Arani may take delight in taking vengeance against her former boss with embarrassing personal claims, there is a more serious refrain running throughout the legal complaint: Craun was allegedly supported in his actions by the other leaders in CAIR-CA.
This isn’t the first time a lawsuit aired CAIR’s dirty laundry, suggesting that internal problems of the kind Arani alleges may be more organizationally systemic. In 2008, CAIR and CAIR-Virginia were sued along with CAIR-Virginia's "resident attorney" Morris J. Days. The suit alleges that Days, who was not actually an attorney, had taken money from clients for legal services never received, and that CAIR knew all about it. The outcome of that lawsuit has not yet been resolved.
CAIR likes to pitch itself as a "social justice" organization in an "intersectional" alliance with other marginalized groups. This new lawsuit provides further allegations that CAIR’s progressive rhetoric may indeed just be a cynical activist tactic and that, on the inside, CAIR may institutionally practice discriminatory policies which it would never tolerate if it were done against Muslims in other organizations.