A group of Filipino workers in British Columbia, Canada, is suing Denny’s, claiming the restaurant has cut their hours, ignored contractual overtime requirements and reversed its promise to pay for their airfare home.

The suit is being brought on behalf of over 50 immigrant workers who began working for Denny’s in December 2006, under Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP).

Under the TFWP, Canada hires “thousands of foreign workers to fill immediate skills and labour shortages,” according to the Website for the country’s Human Resources and Skills Development department. The site describes the program’s goal as “ensur[ing] that the employment of foreign workers supports economic growth and helps create more opportunities for all Canadians.”

Herminia Vergara Dominguez, one of the plaintiffs, was promised at least 40 hours of work per week, with time-and-a-half for any additional hours worked, according to the suit. But, Dominguez says, Denny’s reneged on those promises once she began working.

Dominguez also claims Denny’s promised to pay her airfare between Canada and the Phillipines, but failed to live up to that promise as well.

Attorney: Denny’s didn’t honor its “end of the deal”

In a press release, Christopher Foy, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, said, “These workers were encouraged to come to Canada with a set of promises that have never been met -- they have done their part but the Defendants have not lived up to their end of the deal.”

“[The plaintiffs are] put in a highly vulnerable position vis-a-vis their employers,” attorney Charles Gordon told newspaper, The Province. “Many hope to become permanent residents but are afraid of making any waves that may jeopardize that.”

Reached by Straight, a Vancouver newspaper, Denny’s Canada marketing director Brent Armstrong said that the plaintiffs’ “claims have no merit. That is the extent of our quote.”

“We have always adhered to the employment standards guidelines and continue to be strong supporters of workplace ethics,” Armstrong told the Province.

The suit requests compensatory damages, as well as $9 million in punitive damages for the restaurant chain’s ““outrageous and malicious conduct.”

Danger to a brittle reputation

The suit, dealing with immigrant workers, threatens to dredge up memories of Denny’s unsavory past. In 1994, the restaurant settled a $54 million brought by thousands of African-Americans who said the chain had refused them service or otherwise discriminated against them.

In the wake of the settlement, Denny’s created a racial sensitivity program and implemented a program to attract minority managers and franchisees. In a stunning turnaround, in 2001 Fortun Magazine named Denny’s the “Best Company for Minorities.”