A former WestJet flight attendant is suing the airline, alleging that it failed to protect her from being sexually assaulted by a pilot who was known to have previously assaulted another woman, that its officials did not discipline her alleged assailant and that she was fired when she tried to find out how the company had responded to her complaint.
Mandalena Lewis says in a statement of claim filed in the Supreme Court of British Columbia late Tuesday that, had the Calgary-based airline taken appropriate measures when the first flight attendant was assaulted by the same man, her own ordeal never would have happened.
Ms. Lewis also alleges that she was warned by WestJet to remain silent about the incident. She is asking the court to find that, far from disciplining the man identified as Pilot M, WestJet took steps to protect him from prosecution.
The statement of claim asks for damages in an amount to be determined as well as declarations from WestJet that it did not protect Ms. Lewis, that it caused her further harm and that her employment was wrongfully terminated. None of the allegations has been proven in court.
Asked for comment, WestJet responded in an e-mail by saying the company does not comment on ongoing legal proceedings but will “vigorously” defend itself against the allegations contained in the claim.
“WestJet further confirms its commitment to maintaining a safe and harassment-free environment for its employees and guests and takes its obligations in this respect with the utmost seriousness,” the statement from the airline said.
As a result of lawsuit, SumOf-Us.org, an international consumer watchdog, has launched a petition campaign that urges WestJet chief executive officer Gregg Saretsky to resign his post and calls on the company to immediately update and enforce its policies regarding sexual harassment and assault.
“Women shouldn’t face harassment of any kind at their respective workplaces and no one should fear for their job after reporting sexual assault by a fellow employee,” said Emma Pullman, a lead strategist with SumOfUs.org.
According to Ms. Lewis’s statement of claim, Pilot M invited her and the rest of his flight crew back to his room for drinks during a layover in Maui, Hawaii, in January, 2010. Team spirit is promoted by the company, the court document says, and “as part of that team spirit, socializing on layovers is common and encouraged by WestJet and this often involves alcohol.”
When all other members of the crew had retired for the night, the court document says, the pilot suggested sex and, when Ms. Lewis tried to leave, he threw her onto the bed, kissed her and groped her between the legs. She managed to push him off, then fled the room.
The document says Ms. Lewis reported the assault to another member of the crew the following day and to her WestJet manager upon her return to Canada. She also lodged a complaint with the RCMP, who contacted the police in Maui. But the pilot could not be arrested unless he returned to Hawaii.
Rather than discipline or fire Pilot M, the statement of claim says, WestJet determined that he would never be sent back to Hawaii.
The document also says the company told Ms. Lewis that she would never be scheduled to work with the pilot again – which made it difficult for her to maintain full employment because she could not be scheduled for stand-by or reserve shifts.
In addition, the statement of claim says, she was instructed “not to speak of the sexual assault to anyone else, out of concern for the pilot’s privacy.”
Ms. Lewis “felt demoralized, frustrated and degraded by WestJet,” the claim says.
At a company training session in April of last year, she asked why WestJet does not do more to protect employees from sexual assault.
Four months later, another flight attendant who had attended the same training session called Ms. Lewis to say she had been assaulted by a pilot in 2008 and had informed WestJet.
In their discussion, the two women realized the same man was the alleged assailant in both cases. The court document says Pilot M admitted having sex with the other woman and the evidence indicates that she “did not, and could not, have consented.”
For Ms. Lewis, the statement of claim says, “this information meant that WestJet’s failure to properly investigate and respond to the 2008 complainant’s report of sexual assault by Pilot M has resulted in Pilot M being at liberty to assault others, including the plaintiff in January, 2010.”
In September, 2015, Ms. Lewis started demanding to see her employment file to determine what, if any, action WestJet had taken following her complaint of sexual assault.
When no file was forthcoming, she went on stress leave in December.
Then, in January of this year, she sent the company an e-mail containing a curse word demanding to know where her records were.
The court document says that she was fired for “insubordination” based on the swear word and a disconnected call to a WestJet manager that she had inadvertently dialled.Report Typo/Error