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Plagued by what it views as a rash of frivolous discrimination lawsuits, Denny’s is firing back. Lawyers for the restaurant chain, operated by South Carolina-based Advantica Restaurant Group, last week filed suit in Miami-Dade, Fla., Circuit Court against a black couple who claimed they were seated in the back of a Denny’s on South Dixie Highway in Cutler Ridge, Fla., and ignored for 45 minutes while white customers were seated and served. The couple’s racial discrimination claim, filed in November 1999 by Ronald Flagler and Janet Jones, was thrown out by U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore last month after lawyers for Advantica said security tapes clearly showed that the two were greeted courteously, were seated quickly, and left after less than 10 minutes. Though a frequent target of racial discrimination claims, including one which the chain agreed to pay $54 million to settle, the company says several other suits have been tossed out. In November 1998, a Tampa federal judge dismissed a claim by 36 African-American church singers who claimed they were denied service at a Plant City, Fla., restaurant three years earlier because of their race. As recently as July, a federal judge rejected a suit by several blacks and Asian Americans who claimed they were thrown out of a Denny’s in Syracuse, N.Y. Denny’s has also gone after other customers who the company says it believes to have filed frivolous suits. “We have prevailed in recovering costs from plaintiffs in other discrimination cases where we have won,” said Denny’s spokeswoman Karen Randall. Those cases, she said, were in California and South Carolina. After Moore dismissed the Miami suit, Denny’s president and chief executive James B. Adamson, in a written statement, called it “a disturbing example of two unscrupulous plaintiffs and their attorneys trying to take advantage of our court system through lies and deception.” Even Miami attorney Ellis Rubin, who is known for taking on high-profile causes and who initially filed the Flagler-Jones case, withdrew. “We had done some investigating, and we didn’t feel comfortable with it,” Rubin said. “In obeying the Florida Bar rule that a lawyer is not to continue a frivolous case, we called the plaintiffs in and said we are going to withdraw.” Oscar Syger, the attorney who did pursue the case, did not return calls. Syger is not named in the suit, but Randall said the company is considering all of its options. Efforts to reach former plaintiffs Flagler and Jones were not successful. Denny’s suit for malicious prosecution claims that the two lied about the events of the day. It alleges that not only was the couple escorted to a table “less than 15 seconds after arriving” but six other African-Americans who arrived were also seated. Denny’s claims that it needlessly incurred legal fees and costs and “has been damaged by the malicious prosecution in that it lost goodwill of clientele and suffered damage to its reputation from the negative publicity.” The suit seeks unspecified damages.

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