Date registered: Aug 2002
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7 men sue Florida City Denny's after being called 'bin Ladens'
Seven men of Middle Eastern descent have sued a Denny's restaurant in Florida City, claiming the restaurant refused to serve them.
Ehab Albarabi, Nabil Arafat, Usama El-A-Baidy, Esam Hessein, Mohammad Natour, Usama Mohamed and Ehab Mohamed, all of Boca Raton, filed the civil rights suit April 22 in Miami-Dade Circuit Court. They seek $4 million each from the owner and a former manager of the restaurant.
The suit alleges that last year the restaurant discriminated against the men and humiliated them.
"We certainly are very hurt by all of this," 31-year-old Ehab Mohamed said Wednesday. "We are in fear of being discriminated everywhere we go."
The men decided to stop for food at the Denny's in Florida City shortly after 2 a.m. on Jan. 11, 2004, attorney Alan Kauffman said.
According to the suit, the discrimination started when the waitress who took their drink orders took "an unusually long time" to bring their drinks and take their food order.
After waiting more than one hour, Albarabi asked manager Eduardo Ascano about the delay. According to the suit, Ascano called the men "Bin Ladens," referring to al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
After waiting another 30 minutes, El-A-Baidy questioned the manager about the remark and delay.
According to the suit, Ascano said, "We don't serve Bin Laden's here ... You're not welcome here anymore."
Ascano's comments caught the men off-guard and prompted their departure, Natour said.
"We're a group of very responsible guys," said Natour, a 39-year-old Syrian native who owns a restaurant in Plantation. "We were very surprised when we heard the manager screaming as Bin Ladens."
Two officers from the Miami-Dade and Homestead police departments eating at the Denny's asked the seven men to leave the restaurant, and said they would arrest them if they didn't, the lawsuit said.
The officers, who could not be reached for comment, are not named in the suit.
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.
Denny's restaurants have long been the targets of discrimination lawsuits across the country. Denny's settled a 1994 lawsuit for $54.4 million that accused the chain of asking blacks to prepay for meals. Since then, it has faced at least six more discrimination lawsuits filed by African-Americans and Hispanics and has been investigated in at least two cases involving discrimination against people of Middle Eastern descent.
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