MIAMI -- Seven men of Middle Eastern descent have sued a
The men, who are all US citizens, are seeking $4 million each from Restaurant Collection Inc., which owns the Denny's franchise in South Florida, and shift manager Eduardo Ascano, whom they say compared them to the Al Qaeda terrorist leader.
''This was a terrible act against Arab-Americans," Alan C. Kauffman, one of the attorneys for the group, said Wednesday.
The seven men are of Egyptian, Lebanese, Syrian, and Palestinian descent and include a doctor, a real estate agent, an insurance broker, and a restaurant owner. They live in Broward and Palm Beach counties.
The men filed suit last week in Miami-Dade County Circuit Court. No trial date has been set.
Restaurant Collection's owner, Alfonso Fernandez, said in a statement Wednesday that the men's allegations are false.
''We are truly committed to treating all of our guests with respect, and we take every guest concern seriously," Fernandez wrote.
''These allegations of discrimination were immediately and thoroughly investigated by an independent, outside agency that found no evidence whatsoever to support the guests' claims."
Fernandez did not identify the agency. However, an investigation by the Florida Commission on Human Rights said ''reasonable cause does exist" to support the discrimination claim.
The seven men say they went to Fernandez's restaurant in Florida City, on the southern tip of the Florida peninsula, about 2 a.m. Jan. 11, 2004. They say they were seated, given menus, and received their drink orders. But an hour later, their food hadn't arrived.
One of the men -- Ehab Albaradi -- approached Ascano and inquired about the group's order, the lawsuit says.
Ascano allegedly said: ''Bin Laden is the manager of the kitchen" and ''Bin Laden is in charge."
Albaradi and a second man, Usama El-A-Baidy, decided to speak to Ascano again about their order.
Angered, Ascano told the short order cooks in the kitchen to cancel the group's order, the suit contends.
El-A-Baidy then asked Ascano why he had used the name bin Laden.
''We don't serve bin Ladens here! You guys, out!" Ascano allegedly said.
A group of officers from the Miami-Dade County and Homestead police departments eating at the Denny's also told the seven men to leave and threatened to arrest them if they didn't, the lawsuit said. The officers have not been identified, Kauffman said.
Ascano no longer works for the company, Fernandez said. Ascano does not have a listed phone number and could not be reached for comment.