The lawyer for a former WestJet flight attendant who alleges the airline failed to protect her from being sexually assaulted by a pilot says he is contemplating turning her suit into a class action that would include other women lodging similar complaints against the company.
“We are certainly considering it,” said Sean Hern, the lawyer for Mandalena Lewis, who filed a statement of claim against WestJet in the Supreme Court of British Columbia last week.
“It just depends on how many women there are and what their circumstances would be,” Mr. Hern said Monday. “It’s something that certainly is on the radar.”
A representative of the WestJet Professional Flight Attendants Association said additional women have “come forward” with allegations of assault to representatives of the union, which has yet to be certified. They have been referred to Mr. Hern, said the man, who did not want to be identified because of concerns about his own employment.
Mr. Hern would not confirm that he had discussed the case with other potential complainants, saying, “I don’t talk about people who talk to me.”
Ms. Lewis alleges in her statement of claim that the airline failed to protect her from being sexually assaulted by a pilot who was known to have 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. None of the allegations has been proven in court.
WestJet officials say the company will “vigorously” defend itself against Ms. Lewis’s claim. Company spokeswoman Lauren Stewart said on Monday that the company has not been contacted by other employees who are alleging assault.
Gregg Saretsky, WestJet’s president, said in an online statement late last week that the safety of his employees is something he does not take lightly and that sexual assault is a serious matter.
Investigations of Ms. Lewis’s allegations of sexual assault, and those of the second flight attendant, were conducted and subsequently closed, said Mr. Saretsky, but they are now being reviewed to ensure that they were diligently conducted and that no new information has come to light.
Emma Pullman, a strategist with SumOfUs.org, an international consumer watchdog, said that, over the weekend, 17,000 people signed her group’s petition urging Mr. Saretsky to resign and calling on the company to enforce its policies on sexual harassment and assault. About 10,000 identified themselves as WestJet customers, Ms. Pullman said.
According to Ms. Lewis’s statement of claim, a man referred to as Pilot M sexually assaulted her in 2010 during a layover in Hawaii. She says she reported the assault to WestJet officials but, rather than discipline or fire Pilot M, she was told “not to speak of the sexual assault to anyone else, out of concern for the pilot’s privacy.”
The claim says Ms. Lewis learned last year that another flight attendant complained to WestJet in 2008 of being assaulted by the same pilot. Ms. Lewis argues in her statement of claim that, had the company responded appropriately to that allegation, her own assault would not have occurred.
The court document goes on to say Ms. Lewis was fired in January of this year for “insubordination” based on the swear word contained in an e-mail she wrote to WestJet officials and a disconnected call to a WestJet manager that she had inadvertently dialled.
Ms. Stewart, the WestJet spokeswoman, said both Pilot M and the flight attendant who complained about being assaulted in 2008 have been take of the flight schedule while the company reviews the investigations it conducted into the alleged assaults. She would not say whether the two employees are being paid while they are grounded.Report Typo/Error