Four employees of the IHOP restaurant chain with a combined 45 years experience claim they were fired in 2010 because of their national origin and their religious beliefs.
The men are Arab and Muslim, and they allege that that was the basis for their termination.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission agreed, determining there was "reasonable cause" that the men were harassed and terminated because of their national origin.
The men's attorneys filed suit Tuesday against IHOP and Anthraper Investments, which owns the four local franchises involved in Plano, Fort Worth, Arlington and Burleson.
Attorney Jay Ellwanger said the men experienced a hostile work environment for a long time.
"I’m Christian; I’m white," Ellwanger said. "I couldn’t imagine being fired for my job because that's who I am."
The lawsuit claims the men were all fired despite repeated positive evaluations from supervisors.
"It’s shocking that in this day and age we’re still going through this, and still fighting this fight," said co-counsel Sara Wyn Kane.
In their lawsuit, the men state that they heard repeated discriminatory remarks from Anthraper Investments owners, such as "Arab men treat women poorly and with disrespect, we're going to let these people go and have new faces coming in."
The lawsuit states that one owner equated Muslims waiting to break the fast during Ramadan to "dogs waiting for their meal."
Ellwanger said the men received one warning every year. "Every year on the anniversary of September 11th, our clients received and email from IHOP management telling them to lay low at their stores," he said.
An attorney for Anthraper Investments said the EEOC "simply got it wrong" in this case. He said the agency has a large backlog of charges and inadequate resources.
The EEOC reviewed more than 4,100 claims of religious discrimination and only ruled 6.6 percent had reasonable cause. This was one of those cases.
"They are just like everybody else," Kane said of her clients. "They are American citizens who should not be treated differently based on their national origin or their religion."
IHOP said the employment practices of the company and franchisees are non-discriminatory and inclusive. "We have a long history of supporting diversity," the IHOP statement said. "Our franchisee believes the allegations are without merit, and looks forward to the fair conclusion of this matter."
Kane and Ellwanger will accompany their clients at a rally outside the federal court building on Wednesday morning.
"They made a lot of money over the years for IHOP, and to be treated like this — to be dismissed because of religious beliefs and national origins — it’s something all of us are protected from under American law," Ellwanger said.