Nearly two years ago, Herminia Vergara Dominguez left her two young children in the care of her mother and travelled from the Philippines to Canada.
Recruited under Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program, Dominguez crossed the seas to serve food and beverages at a Denny’s restaurant in Vancouver.
Her employment contract assured her of 40 hours of work per week, and additional 50-percent pay over her regular wages for overtime.
But according to Dominguez, these terms and other provisions in the contract were not followed by the employer.
Now, Dominguez finds herself as a representative plaintiff in a $10-million class-action lawsuit against Northland Properties Corporation and Dencan Restaurants Inc., which run Denny’s restaurants in B.C., for alleged breach of contract.
Northland Properties is the parent company of Denny’s 24-Hour Restaurant in Canada, and other establishments such as Sandman Hotels, Inns & Suites; Moxie’s Classic Grill; Shark Club & Grill; and Northland Asset Management Company.
On January 7, a notice of claim under the Class Proceedings Act was filed by lawyers representing Dominguez and over 50 other former and current employees of Denny’s, who were brought over to Canada under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, starting in December 1, 2006.
The notice includes claims in addition to allegations the employer failed to provide the promised 40 hours of work per week, and to correctly calculate and pay overtime wages.
It alleges that the employer did not pay for the cost of the workers’ air travel between the Philippines and Canada. The notice also says that the plaintiffs paid about $6,000 each to employment agencies hired by Northland Properties to recruit workers, which it cites as a violation of B.C. labour laws.
The plaintiffs’ allegations have not been proven in court.
In addition to general damages and other costs, the lawsuit specifically asks for $9 million in punitive damages for the defendants’ “outrageous and malicious conduct”.
These alleged actions include the termination of the employment of class member Alfredo Sales “as a consequence of his inquiries into the payment of his outstanding overtime”. Sales also asked for the payment of the cost of his two-way air travel between the Philippines and Canada.
The notice also claims that class member Maria Genalyn Reyes was threatened to be sent home if she accepted a position at Wendy’s, a restaurant chain competitor, instead of renewing her contract with Denny’s.
Brent Armstrong is the director for marketing for Denny’s Canada. When reached for comment about the case, Armstrong told the Straight in a brief phone interview today (January 11), “Their claims have no merit. That is the extent of our quote.”
Dominguez’s employment contract and work permit will expire on January 25.
According to the notice of claim, Denny’s has made no arrangements to pay for her travel to return to the Philippines as required by the contract.
In a media release dated January 10, Christopher Foy, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs, 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.”