In pancake-related news that's already gone national, four Muslim men of Arab descent are suing IHOP, claiming they were all fired from their managerial positions at DFW-area locations because of their ethnicity and religion.
In the suit, filed Tuesday in federal court, Hussein Chamseddine claims that despite receiving consistently positive performance reviews, he and three other men, Rami Saleh, Brandon Adam and Chekri Bakro, were all fired over the course of less than a year from the IHOPs they managed in Plano, Fort Worth, Arlington and Burleson. All of them were replaced by white, non-Muslim managers.
Chamseddine says his replacement, Larry Hawker, told about 20 other managers at a meeting in March 2010 that "Arab men treat women poorly and with disrespect[;] we're going to let these people go and have new faces coming in." All the other plaintiffs say they overheard those remarks, the suit claims. One of them, Rami Saleh, was fired just weeks later for an "alleged incident" while he was counseling a female employee over a mistake she'd made.
The lawsuit follows a determination by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that all four men have the right to sue. In their decision, EEOC officials said witness testimony "confirms ethnically derogatory comments and unlawful harassment."
The complaint states that the men were all hired by John Anthraper, president and chief executive officer of Anthraper Investments, the franchise that owns several Texas IHOP locations. Alex Anthraper, John's son, took over around December 2009 or January 2010.
"Once he took over, Alex Anthraper, who is an Indian Christian, put increased pressure and scrutiny on the managers who were of Arab-ethnic origin and the Muslim faith," the complaint says. "Alex Anthraper fired Plaintiff Chamseddine, who was a District Manager, and hired a new Caucasian Christian District Manager, Larry Hawker ("Hawker"), who openly made offensive comments towards the Plaintiffs due to their ethnicity and religion." The suit claims that all four men were fired without IHOP going through its standard termination procedure, in which several verbal and written warnings are supposed to precede termination.
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Chamseddine also claims that even before the son took over the business, Anthraper the Elder made racist remarks: "For example, in and around August of 2007, some customers complained about one of the managers who was an Arab male. John Anthraper said to Chamseddine, 'The whole thing here is because you hire those fucking Arab friends of yours.'" Chamseddine says that Anthraper would email him every anniversary of September 11, advising him to have fellow Arab managers "lay low," and the he once likened Muslims waiting to break their Ramadan fast to "dogs waiting for their meal."
Alex Anthraper didn't immediately return a phone call asking for comment. The IHOP Corp. issued a statement which reads, in part:
"We believe the employment practices of our company and our independent franchisees are non-discriminatory and inclusive. We have a long history of supporting diversity in all aspects of our business. Our franchisee believes the allegations are without merit and looks forward to the fair conclusion of this matter."
The plaintiffs are asking for, among other things, back pay, damages for emotional distress, and for Anthraper Investments to be compelled to perform training on diversity and employment discrimination.