Three former waiters at New York's posh 21 Club, where a hamburger costs $30, have filed a $5 million discrimination lawsuit saying they were fired for being French.

In a civil suit made public on Monday at Manhattan Supreme Court, the three men, Rene Bordet, 68, Jean Claude Lesbre, 63 and Yves Thepault, 68, said the restaurant's management falsely accused them of drinking wine on the job and "created and fostered an environment rife with anti-French sentiment."

Both Bordet and Lesbre worked for 10 years as waiters and floor captains before being fired in 2004 after accusations of drinking on the job. Thepault, who worked for 14 years as a waiter, was fired in 2005 for gross insubordination after an argument with a chef over a hamburger, court papers said.

The suit accused 21 Club of engaging in "a concerted and egregious course of action to rid (the restaurant) of its older and long-term employees of French national origin."

Bordet and Lesbre deny they were drinking alcohol and said when another employee was caught drinking on the job, on four occasions, he was only given a one-week suspension.

"(He was) not of French national origin, but is Hungarian," the lawsuit said.

21 Club spokeswoman Diana Biederman declined to discuss the case, but said the business was an equal opportunity employer which does not discriminate against employees.

One of Manhattan's most expensive restaurants, the 21 is housed in a four-story townhouse and is a popular haunt of politicians, business leaders and celebrities. It operated as a speak-easy during prohibition years when alcohol was illegal.

The suit also said that management of the restaurant "made fun of Bordet's French accent" and "expressed glee" that "President Bush hated the French."

Relations between Washington and Paris became strained in the run up to the war in Iraq, with some restaurants changing the name of French fries to "freedom fries."

The three men are seeking hundreds of thousands of dollars in back pay and $5 million in damages.


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