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Denny's denied service to students, school says

A group of black sixth-grade students on a field trip to Disney World were denied service at a Denny's restaurant in Ocoee, the latest in a series of complaints of discrimination against the chain, school officials said Monday.

The students from Baltimore's Ashburton Elementary-Middle School and their chaperones entered the restaurant Thursday night and were not greeted or seated, school officials said.

After seating themselves, the students waited 20 minutes before some received menus and left an hour later without being served. White customers who entered after the group were served, said school officials, who plan to file a complaint with the company.

"The way we were greeted, actually entering the restaurant, we were not welcomed," chaperone Peggy Brown told Baltimore station WMAR-TV.

The incident will be investigated, said Ray Hood-Phillips, chief diversity officer for Denny's, a position created after the chain settled a $46-million discrimination suit in 1994.

"If we find that discrimination has occurred, it doesn't matter if it's a company store or a franchise unit, we take swift action," Hood-Phillips said. "Employees are fired if they're found to discriminate, and if it's a franchise, we take the franchise away."

The lawsuit was brought by black Secret Service agents, who complained they were denied service at an Annapolis restaurant and California students who claimed discrimination in a separate incident.

In January, several Florida corrections officers filed a discrimination complaint against Denny's, saying they were turned away twice from one restaurant.

As part of an agreement with the Justice Department, the restaurant chain agreed to retrain employees, feature minorities in its ads and hire an outside lawyer to monitor compliance.