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Iranian-Americans Sued Petco After Stores Allegedly Refused To Sell Them Goldfish

(Photo by greg lilly via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr)
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Three Iranian-Americans have settled a lawsuit against Petco, which the plaintiffs claimed had refused to sell them goldfish during the Iranian New Year, reports City News Service.

Sam and Samira Mojabi, along with Talin Sardarbegians, sued the San Diego-based pet store company in August 2015. According to Courthouse News Service, the Mojabis had gone to a Camarillo Petco in March 2015 to buy goldfish, which are traditionally featured in celebrations for Nowruz, the Iranian New Year. The Mojabis claimed that the store had refused to sell them goldfish because of a misconception that Persians kill the fish during Nowruz. Sardarbegians said that he was also refused at another Petco store in Van Nuys when he went in on March 2015. The Nowruz usually begins on March 21, or whenever the vernal equinox happens.

The Mojabis' attorney said that they had been discriminated against because of their Persian background and religious beliefs. The suit claimed that "Petco asked its patrons if they were of Persian descent and declined to sell them goldfish." The suit added that "Moreover, Petco and its management had specifically sent out memorandum commanding its retail staff to decline the sale of such fish to Persians." The lawsuit sought unspecified damages and civil penalties of $2,500 for each alleged violation.

"[We] have a strong commitment to animal welfare and responsible pet ownership and we do not tolerate discrimination of any sort," a spokesperson for Petco told LAist in an email.

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Colleen O'Brien, vice president of PETA, wrote to us to say that goldfish shouldn't be purchased, period. "Fish have highly specialized needs that most people aren't equipped to meet, so no matter who buys them, they often end up getting flushed down the toilet or dumped, killing the fish and harming the environment," wrote O'Brien.

Nowruz, which translates to "new day," celebrates spring and the advent of a new year. When the vernal equinox arrives, families set out a ceremonial table replete with items that signify the re-birth of nature. This table, called a haftseen, is often comprised of apples, garlic, vinegar, hyacinth, sweet pudding, sprouts, and coins that signify prosperity. Goldfish, put in a fishbowl, are also sometimes included in this spread. They are said to represent life.

While the goldfish are not meant to be harmed, they are often released back into the wild, according to the BBC. It should also be noted that goldfish are apparently horrible for the environment; they may cause algal blooms by stirring up the river bottom with their feeding habits, and they also eat other fish's eggs on occasion. It seems that, among Iranians, attitudes about the goldfish's place in Nowruz has been shifting. As noted at GreenProphet, a website about sustainability catered to readers of Middle Eastern descent, some in the Iranian blogosphere are calling for a boycott to the practice of buying goldfish for Nowruz.

Most notably, during this year's Nowruz, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani Tweeted a photo of himself sitting down with a fishbowl that had an orange in it:

One Twitter user wrote in Farsi, "Rouhani, too, has joined the campaign of leaving out goldfish from the Haft Seen table. Good for you!" This guy, on the other hand, was a little confused:

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