The owner of Elaine's, a Manhattan celebrity hangout, was sued for $12 million Thursday by a man who says she scratched his face with her nails after calling him "white trash."

James V. Sorrels, 49, says in court papers that he was having a drink in the tony Upper East Side restaurant just after midnight on April 4 with friend Linda Arnold when Elaine Kaufman, 69, attacked him.Kaufman seemed surprised when she heard about Sorrels' lawsuit, filed in Manhattan's State Supreme Court.

"I didn't do anything to him," Kaufman said when reached by telephone Thursday night. "He wasn't harmed. He was in my face and I brushed him away. He was drunk. What do you do with someone who is in your face and drunk?"

Kaufman's lawyer, Ronald P. Fischetti, said, "We will defend this vigorously, and we intend to win."

The incident allegedly occurred after Kaufman, sitting near the couple at the restaurant's bar, became annoyed because Sorrels bought one alcoholic drink for himself and a soft drink for Arnold.

According to Sorrels, a marketing executive, the scuffle happened after Kaufman told him: "You people look to me like poor white trash. I'll bet you $50 you can't afford to buy another drink."