British Columbia

WestJet denies Mandy Lewis's allegations about sex assault coverup

WestJet is denying claims by Mandalena "Mandy" Lewis, a former flight attendant who is suing the Calgary-based airline, claiming she was sexually assaulted by a pilot six years ago.

Flight attendant was disciplined 8 times and forced a flight cancellation because of drinking, WestJet says

Former flight attendant Mandy Lewis alleges she was sexually assaulted by a pilot 6 years ago, accuses airline of coverup 1:55

WestJet is denying claims by Mandalena (Mandy) Lewis, a former flight attendant who is suing the Calgary-based airline, claiming she was sexually assaulted by a pilot six years ago.

Lewis alleged that instead of firing the pilot, the airline protected him and fired her.

But in a written response to Lewis's suit against the airline, WestJet on Tuesday denied the Vancouver woman's claims, citing eight warnings, suspensions and disciplinary actions against her for issues ranging from poor attendance to drinking alcohol before duty.

Lewis said references to her disciplinary record at WestJet are a distraction from systemic issues.

"It is a red herring. A full-blown diversion," said the former WestJet staffer in a phone interview with CBC Tuesday.

"It is very revealing. [The] company is washing their hands of what goes on during layovers."

Drinking allegedly forced flight cancellation

"The facts outlined … show that WestJet was justified in its termination of Mandy Lewis," the airline argued in a written response to Lewis's civil claim.

"The behaviour repeatedly demonstrated by Ms. Lewis was more than sufficient grounds for dismissal and WestJet's dismissal of Ms. Lewis was completely unrelated to the allegations Ms. Lewis has now raised," according to the airline's 14-page response,

In one December 2013 incident, the airline states, the captain had to remove Lewis and two others from a shift for drinking alcohol, which resulted in cancellation of the flight.

The response to the civil claim, filed in B.C. Supreme Court Tuesday, outlines years of disciplinary action against the former flight attendant, which led to her dismissal claimed to be "with just cause" on Jan. 12, 2016.

"Lewis did not express her dissatisfaction with the outcome of her complaint until the termination of her employment for cause, some six years after the actions complained of," said the airline's court documents.

WestJet 'unable to conclude' pilot assaulted Lewis

Fourteen days after her dismissal, Lewis went to the media making allegations about sexual advances by "Pilot M" during a layover in Maui in 2010, according to WestJet.

"At the conclusion of the investigation, based on the available evidence, WestJet was unable to conclude that Pilot M had assaulted Lewis," the court documents state.

The airline said the pilot was disciplined and denied privileges such as access to a program that gives pilots the opportunity to fly on international routes, including Hawaii.

"WestJet did not terminate Pilot M's employment because its findings and conclusions … did not warrant such action," the airline's statement said.

Earlier this month, Lewis's allegations were outlined in a civil claim.

In it, Lewis alleged 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 alleged she was "sexually assaulted by a WestJet pilot," whom she identifies only as "Pilot M."

Allegedly dragged onto bed

In Lewis's civil claim, she alleged that the pilot '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 returning to Vancouver, she said 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 said Maui police opened an investigation and later assigned a prosecutor.

All of the allegations in the above quoted court documents have not yet been tested in court.

Tuesday's response by WestJet sparked calls for the airline CEO's resignation from an activist group speaking out for former staff.

"We are extremely disappointed to see the inappropriate and adversarial position WestJet is taking in response to a legitimate claim regarding a troubling incident of sexual assault in the workplace," said Emma Pullman of SumOfUs, a group that says it stands up for workers.

"We call on Mr. [Gregg] Saretsky to immediately resign," Pullman said.

WestJet flies an average of 420 flights per day. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

See Civil Claim here

See Response to Civil Claim here.

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