Air Canada accused of mishandling female pilot's concern of sexism
Veteran pilot Jane Clegg said airline treated the misogyny she faced as a personality conflict
Jane Clegg had been a military and commercial airline pilot in Canada for three decades. But she tears up talking about her last day on the job as a first officer at the controls of an Air Canada plane on April 3, 2013.
Instead of the traditions reserved for retiring pilots she always assumed she'd experience, including the right to keep her uniform, she was asked to give hers back. She said goodbye to her passengers and walked over to the company's flight operations control centre in Ottawa.
"Nobody was there to say thank you. No one was there to shake my hand," she said. "I simply went in with a garbage bag with my uniform in it and placed it on the desk and walked away."
They didn't have training, they didn't have sensitivity.— Former Air Canada pilot Jane Clegg
That's because rather than retire, Clegg was resigning — a decision the woman who, in the 1990s was part of the military's VIP squadron, flying the prime minister and members of the Royal Family, claims she was forced into by Air Canada's mishandling of sexism she encountered on the job.
"I don't think Air Canada is unsafe," she said, but, "I don't think they truly appreciate the impact that misogyny has on their female pilots.
"It is definitely devastating to have had to end my career in the manner that I did."
She filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission, and on Monday morning in Ottawa, a tribunal will begin hearing Clegg's accusation that she only quit because Air Canada reacted poorly to a situation she believed was affecting safety.
"The difficulty in having the situation addressed had more to do with the fact that they just didn't understand, they didn't have training, they didn't have sensitivity," Clegg said.
Clegg points to the day she and a male pilot got into an angry exchange before a flight, because she insisted they needed more fuel. She believes his reaction was actually a response to having to share the controls with a woman. He had more seniority. She was taken off the flight crew and assigned to another route that day.
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Out of more than 3,500 pilots employed at Air Canada about six per cent, or 210, are women. The airline says that's better than the industry average.
"There are probably still men who work for the airline and have never flown with a female," she said.
Clegg didn't file a formal complaint of gender harassment because, she says, she thought the airline could simply agree not to schedule her and the male pilot together. Air Canada says that since no harassment complaint was filed, it didn't address the complaint in the context of the airline's zero-tolerance policy on sexual harassment.
Instead, the airline considered the issue a personality conflict and suggested Clegg use the company's "book-around" system to manage the situation.
It meant the onus was on her to switch her flights, sometimes to lesser routes, for less pay.
She says she's not the only female pilot put in that position.
Harassment vs. personality conflict
'I failed to help them understand that there's a difference between not liking somebody and somebody who is intentionally diminishing your professional standing'— Jane Clegg
"I know there are female pilots at Air Canada who are altering their own personal work schedules to avoid having to share the small confines of an aircraft flight deck with somebody who's treating them inappropriately," Clegg said.
Air Canada said in a statement it has a zero-tolerance policy for harassment and wouldn't have suggested she work around the male pilot if it had known she considered the conflict to be about gender.
"I think they see misogyny and harassment more through the lens of personality," Clegg said.
In her view, the airline equated the situation to "two guys who just don't get along."
"And I failed to help them understand that there's a difference between not liking somebody and somebody who is intentionally diminishing your professional standing — simply because of your gender," she said.
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Claiming the the situation became untenable, affecting decisions on safety, Clegg quit.
She will argue before a public tribunal that the airline needs to improve its policies on gender harassment and that she should be reinstated.
"As somebody who's been in the aviation industry for a very, very long time there were women that came before me that paved the way for my career to be what it was. And, I very much want my legacy to be that my career paved the way for younger generations of women to be able to enjoy a better work experience than than I do," Clegg said.
The hearings are expected to take place in Ottawa over several weeks.
- A previous version of this story stated that Air Canada employed 202 women pilots. In fact, it has 210 women pilots.Apr 23, 2018 11:23 AM ET