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Michael Chow, whose designer restaurants attract the celebrity set, used "degradation as a management technique" at his two Manhattan locations, according to a federal lawsuit. The $5 million lawsuit, filed Monday by three ex-waiters, also accuses Chow of deducting waiters' tips for not listening attentively to him, speaking out of turn and failing to wear a perfectly starched uniform, which they buy with their own money. Martin Singer, a lawyer for Chow, called the lawsuit "specious and without merit. It's completely frivolous."

Chow's Web site states that movements of his waiters - filling glasses, changing tablecloths, delicately de-boning rare, fresh pieces of fish - are parts in an elaborate symphony of which he is, ultimately, the conductor.

Louis Pechman, the lawyer for one of the plaintiffs, claims in the lawsuit that Chow was, in fact, "a conductor with an iron baton," who demanded "cult-like attention" from his staff, tapping or lightly slapping waiters' heads to make sure they were listening.

Chow opened his first restaurant in London in 1968. He then opened locations in Los Angeles and New York - Mr. Chow on 57th Street and Mr. Chow Tribeca - where celebrities such as George Clooney, Tobey McGuire, Robert De Niro and Gwyneth Paltrow can be spotted.

He's slated to open another Mr. Chow in Miami in 2008.

The most glaring claim in the lawsuit involves Costin Dumitrescu, an 11-year wait veteran at both Manhattan restaurants. It says Chow berated Dumitrescu before the entire staff when he arrived late for a meeting after running an errand for Chow.

Chow "ordered Dumitrescu to lie on the wooden floor in the middle of the staff meeting" for about 40 minutes, then periodically walked up to him and feigned kicking him "in order to make him flinch in fear," the lawsuit says.

Dumitrescu was fired in July 2006. The other two plaintiffs are Josip Ricov, who was terminated in March, and Marin Alexandru, who quit in February.


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