April 19, 2012 -- Four former managers of IHOP restaurants in Texas are fighting the owner of the franchise they worked for in court, claiming they were wrongfully terminated based on their "nationality and religion."
The four men, all identified in court papers as "Muslims of Arab descent," worked as managers at the Dallas/Fort Worth area locations. Hussein Chamseddine was employed by the franchise for 12 years, Rami Saleh and Brandon Adam each for five years, and Chekri Bakro for 24 years.
According to a complaint filed in a Texas district court, the men allege they were fired without cause.
"They weren't terminated because someone complained or because someone didn't like their attitude," said Sara Kane, a civil rights attorney representing the men. "They were fired because of who they are. That is the determining factor."
All four men were terminated between March and October of 2010. Together they filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which found merit in the men's claim that they were harassed and terminated due to religion and national origins.
"The IHOP corporation has a four-step disciplinary procedure," Kane said. "The franchisee did not follow any of those steps."
Kane, along with attorney Jay Ellwanger, filed suit on behalf of the men Tuesday, against IHOP and Anthraper Investments, the firm that owns the four franchises involved in Plano, Fort Worth, Arlington and Burleston, Texas.
The suit alleges that the men experienced harassment from Anthraper management, including derogatory comments made by the company's President and COO John Anthraper, Vice President Alex Anthraper, and Texas District Manager Larry Hawker.
In one instance, the complaint states the men were attending a managers' meeting in 2010, where Hawker said, "Arab men treat women poorly and with disrespect, we're going to let these people go and have new faces coming in."
Outraged by the company's actions, Kane said, "This is not a Muslim issue, this is a human issue."
"It is completely disheartening and disgraceful to know that this is still going on and should not be tolerated by anyone in our society," she said. "No one else should take this case lightly because if it can happen to them, it can happen to you."
Kane said that over the years, each of the four men earned positive reviews from supervisors and none had experienced any disciplinary complaints or actions.
The complaint also says that every year, as the anniversary of September 11 approached, the men received emails from supervisors asking them to "lay low" at their restaurants.
Representatives of Anthraper Investments did not return phone calls to ABC News for comment. A woman who answered the phone at the home of John Anthraper said he was out of the country.
The IHOP Corporation issued the following statement regarding the lawsuit:
"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."
As for the four plaintiffs, all of whom are U.S. citizens and residents of Texas, Kane said none has been able to secure employment since their termination.
"How do you work somewhere for 12 years and have no explanation or not being able to provide a reference from a previous employer?" Kane said.
All of the men are fathers, with children of varying ages. "This has devastated their families, and we hope whatever actions are being taken to prevent them from gaining employment elsewhere will cease."
Kane said her clients are seeking back wages and payment for emotional damages following their terminations.