LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Eight former senior managers have sued Ralphs Grocery Co. for more than $15 million, alleging the company kept them aboard to help it merge with another grocery chain, then fired them and hired younger, less experienced workers.

The plaintiffs, who are all men, ages 45 to 64, allege sex and age discrimination since they were replaced by younger women. The lawsuit, filed Dec. 20, also claims fraud, deceit and wrongful termination.

The men, who each had at least 18 years with the company, were laid off in May 1996, about 11 months after Ralphs merged with Food 4 Less Supermarkets, according to the lawsuit.

Ralphs laid off more than 1,000 of its 26,000 workers workers and closed more than 50 stores after the $1.5 billion merger between the two companies in June 1995.

The male executives claim they were assured for months that they would keep their jobs and that Ralphs executives would run the combined chain. Ralphs was purchased by Yucaipa Cos., which owned Food 4 Less. The combined company was named Ralphs Grocery Co.

Tim Ryan, a lawyer for Ralphs, said, ``All of senior management had high hopes and high expectations that they'd be the group running the new company, and it didn't work out that way for everyone.''

The plaintiffs said they were told their positions were being eliminated. Instead, they claim, they were replaced by younger, less experienced workers.

According to the lawsuit, one former manager was told he was too old for his job, and other top executives made statements to the effect that ``we have to keep our young bucks happy.''

The merger between Food 4 Less Supermarkets and Ralphs Grocery created Southern California's largest supermarket chain. The new company combined to operate 338 stores in Southern California, 25 in Northern California and 38 in the Midwest.