A former WestJet flight attendant who last month announced she was suing the airline for allegedly failing to protect her from being sexually assaulted by a pilot says she's now seeking a class-action suit.
Mandalena Lewis announced the class action, which still must be certified, Monday. She said she has heard from a number of women since filing her original lawsuit in B.C. Supreme Court.
"This confirmed my initial concerns that my experience was more widespread," Ms. Lewis wrote in a statement. "I decided that filing a class action would be our best hope at encouraging other women to come forward and cause company-wide change that would better protect all female flight attendants."
WestJet said it has not yet been served with the new claim and it did not offer further comment. The allegations have not been tested in court.
Ms. Lewis, in the proposed class action, says she seeks to become the representative plaintiff for present and former WestJet flight attendants who were entitled to the benefit of the company's "anti-harassment promise."
"This claim asserts that despite their employment contracts, WestJet has routinely and systematically denied its female flight attendants the benefit of the anti-harassment promise, particularly when pilots are the harassers," the notice of claim says.
It says WestJet's female employees are "left at risk and subject to harassment without adequate recourse."
It goes on to say that the proposed class members are vulnerable to and/or have experienced conduct including unwelcome sexual advances, sexist jokes and verbal threats. The lawsuit says WestJet does not appropriately investigate cases of harassment nor impose meaningful consequences.
"Despite its anti-harassment promise, WestJet allows a culture permissive of harassment to exist," the lawsuit says.
Ms. Lewis filed her original suit against the airline in March. She alleged that the company did not protect her from a pilot who had previously assaulted another flight attendant. She also accused WestJet of shielding the pilot from prosecution and said the airline warned her to keep quiet about the January, 2010, incident. Ms. Lewis said she was fired when she tried to determine how WestJet had responded to her complaint.
WestJet has said it could not conclude Ms. Lewis was sexually assaulted and portrayed her as a problem employee who was fired with cause. It has also denied the allegations involving an earlier attack on another flight attendant and denied it tried to shield the pilot from prosecution.
Ms. Lewis's statement of claim says she was sexually assaulted during a layover in Maui. She has said she reported the assault to WestJet officials but the pilot was not fired. She has said she learned of the alleged attack on another flight attendant last year. Ms. Lewis argued in her statement of claim that her own assault would not have occurred if the company had responded appropriately to the earlier allegation.
WestJet has said 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 that its investigation into the allegations was confidential.
WestJet has said it did not terminate the pilot's employment "because its findings and conclusions in the investigation did not warrant such action." WestJet has said it warned the pilot that 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.
The company alleged that 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.
Ms. Lewis has disputed claims about her workplace performance, saying her service was commended by both passengers and other WestJet employees.