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Former Westjet employee Mandalena Lewis alleges the airline failed to protect her from being sexually assaulted by a pilot who was known to have previously assaulted another woman. (Jeff Vinnick For The Globe and Mail)
Former Westjet employee Mandalena Lewis alleges the airline failed to protect her from being sexually assaulted by a pilot who was known to have previously assaulted another woman. (Jeff Vinnick For The Globe and Mail)

WestJet denies allegations of sexual assault cover-up Add to ...

WestJet has filed its response to a lawsuit brought by a former flight attendant, with the company arguing it could not conclude the woman was sexually assaulted by a pilot and portraying her as a problem employee who was fired with cause – allegations the woman says left her “dumbfounded.”

Mandalena Lewis filed suit against WestJet in B.C. Supreme Court earlier this month. She alleged the company failed to protect her from a pilot who had previously assaulted another flight attendant. Ms. Lewis also accused the company of shielding the pilot from prosecution and said it warned her to keep quiet about the January, 2010, incident. She said she was fired when she tried to determine how WestJet had responded to her complaint.

The airline filed its response on Tuesday. WestJet said it was “unable to conclude” the pilot had assaulted Ms. Lewis based on the available evidence. The company also denied the allegations involving an earlier attack on another flight attendant by the same pilot.

The company said it did not terminate the pilot’s employment “because its findings and conclusions in the investigation did not warrant such action.” However, it said it did conclude the pilot “failed to meet the standards of conduct and judgment expected of a pilot” and suspended him. The statement of defence noted WestJet employees are expected to conduct themselves professionally and “excessive drinking, partying and fraternization with flight attendants either individually or in groups fails to adhere to these principles.”

WestJet said it warned the pilot another infraction could result in dismissal and it removed him from a program that allows pilots to fly on international routes, including Maui. WestJet denied it was trying to protect the pilot from prosecution and said he has since rejoined the program, and flown to Maui.

Ms. Lewis’s statement of claim and WestJet’s statement of defence both contain unproven allegations that have not been tested in court.

Ms. Lewis, when reached by phone, said she was shocked by the company’s response.

“It’s showing how out of touch WestJet is. They’re basically washing their hands of what goes on on layovers, and layovers are where women are most at risk,” she said in an interview.

The company alleged Ms. Lewis’s employment, which began in March, 2008, was “marred by significant performance deficiencies beginning in her first year.” It said she was formally disciplined on eight separate occasions, primarily for attendance reasons.

But on one occasion, in December, 2013, WestJet alleged Ms. Lewis was “issued a letter of expectation after the captain on one of her shifts expressed concerns that members of the flight crew, including [Ms.] Lewis, violated regulations by consuming alcohol prior to shift, a serious safety violation.” The statement of defence says the captain removed Ms. Lewis and two others from the shift in question, which resulted in the cancellation of the flight.

WestJet also took issue with a blog post in which Ms. Lewis insulted airline passengers and accused her of “gross insubordination.” It said Ms. Lewis swore in an e-mail to company officials this past January, in which she asked to see her employment file. The company says the nature of the employment relationship had clearly deteriorated and Ms. Lewis was fired with just cause later that month.

Ms. Lewis denied the workplace infractions.

“Those are all diversions that never happened and we’re going to prove that all of these diversions that they have been using are just red herrings,” she said.

WestJet alleged it took all reasonable steps to provide a safe work environment for Ms. Lewis and denied it demanded she keep silent about the incident. It said it instead advised her its investigation into the allegations was confidential.

The airline said Ms. Lewis is not entitled to any damages and said her claim should be dismissed with costs.

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