WestJet sexual assault lawsuit filed by ex-flight attendant
Woman claims 'inadequate investigation' by WestJet
A former WestJet flight attendant is suing the Calgary-based airline, claiming she was sexually assaulted by a pilot in 2010 — but instead of firing the pilot, she alleges WestJet protected him and fired her.
In a civil claim filed in B.C. Supreme Court, Vancouver resident Mandalena "Mandy" Lewis alleges the incident occurred during a layover in Hawaii on a Vancouver-to-Maui run on Jan. 24, 2010.
That evening, flight attendants and pilots from the WestJet flight were all staying at the Makena Beach Resort in Maui.
There, Lewis alleges she was "sexually assaulted by a WestJet Pilot," whom she identifies only as "Pilot M."
WestJet has yet to file a legal defence but says it will "vigorously defend" itself against "the allegations contained in the claim."
'Dragged her onto the bed'
In her 15-page lawsuit, Lewis claims, "As was encouraged by WestJet, the pilots and flight attendants socialized that evening on the beach and then over dinner at a restaurant near the hotel."
But when she accepted Pilot M's invitation to have drinks on his hotel room balcony, he "grabbed the plaintiff and dragged her onto the bed, wrestling her into submission while kissing her and groping her genitals.
The lawsuit says Lewis was terrified, and "in her panic ... managed to leverage her legs into a position where she was physically able to kick out and push Pilot M off her."
She says she returned to her room where she "vomited [and] cried."
The next day, upon return to Vancouver, she says she reported the incident in detail to her manager at WestJet, but claims the airline "failed to adequately investigate or respond."
Lewis says she tried to pursue criminal charges, going to the RCMP, which in turn contacted Maui police.
She states Maui police opened an investigation and later assigned a prosecutor.
'WestJet protected pilot,' lawsuit alleges
But Lewis alleges "all that WestJet did was structure [her] work schedule so that she did not have to work with the pilot."
"WestJet told the plaintiff that it had suspended Pilot M's 'extended operations' privileges and he was therefore no longer allowed to fly to Hawaii."
Lewis claims that meant "WestJet protected Pilot M by: (a) adjusting his schedule so that he would not be arrested by Maui police: and (b) instructing the plaintiff to keep quiet about the sexual assault."
Lewis remained with the airline, even attending annual training in April 2015, where she raised a question "as to why WestJet was providing so little training around sexual harassment."
She alleges that exchange led another WestJet flight attendant to contact her — the second woman also claiming she had been sexually assaulted by Pilot M in 2008.
"For the plaintiff, this information meant that WestJet's failure to properly investigate and respond to the 2008 complainant's report of sexual assault ... resulted in Pilot M being at liberty to assault others," including Lewis.
"The significance to the plaintiff ... is that it showed WestJet knew at least by 2008 that the pilot was a danger to other employees."
Complainant fired for 'insubordination'
Lewis's lawsuit claims the resulting stress took an emotional toll on her. In December 2015, she went on short-term disability leave.
She requested a copy of her employment file, "to better understand what steps WestJet took in response to her sexual assault complaint."
After repeated delays, she wrote an email to a manager on Jan. 12 that included a swear word. She says later that day she was fired "without warning ... terminated for cause due to 'insubordination.'"
Lewis says she's bringing her civil claim "in part to hold WestJet accountable to its own commitments to keep its employees safe" and that "WestJet's conduct has been negligent, retaliatory, unlawful and unacceptable."
The former flight attendant is suing for damages.
None of the allegations has been proven in court.
WestJet: "Safe and harassment-free environment"
In a statement to CBC News, WestJet media relations spokesperson Lauren Stewart says "WestJet does not comment on ongoing legal proceeding but confirms it will file a statement of defense in which it will vigorously defend [itself from] 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 obligation in this respect with the utmost seriousness."
No date has been set for the lawsuit to be heard in B.C. Supreme Court.