Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Victim of alleged pilot sex assault was fired with cause, WestJet claims

A former WestJet flight attendant who said she was fired for making waves after being sexually assaulted by a pilot was actually let go for performance issues, according to the airline.

WestJet has filed a statement of defence in response to Mandalena Lewis’s lawsuit that outlines eight disciplinary actions allegedly brought against her between 2008 and 2014.

Issues cited include missed shifts and one incident where a captain accused her and other attendants of drinking alcohol before a flight, resulting in its cancellation.

The airline said Lewis was ultimately fired in January 2016 after she sent an email to her superiors that contained an expletive.

“Lewis’s grossly insubordinate and insolent email, combined with Lewis’s extensive disciplinary record, warranted the termination of Lewis’s employment for just cause,” WestJet’s claim reads.

In her lawsuit, Lewis alleges she was on short-term disability leave for growing anxiety relating to her sexual assault and the airline’s response when she was let go.

She said her email was a frustrated demand for answers, which she sent after repeatedly asking WestJet for files outlining what investigation, if any, had been undertaken in response to her allegations against the pilot.

WestJet denies knowing the request had to do with that, claiming Lewis only requested her own employment file and “at no time” indicated it had to do with her complaint.

Her email, according to WestJet, read: “Where the fuck is my usb card with my file on it. It has been 90 days since I requested them. Fed ex it asap.”

Lewis claims her assault took place during a Hawaiian layover in January 2010, when a pilot, identified only as “Pilot M.” in her suit, dragged her onto a bed and groped her after they had been drinking in his hotel room.

 Several other women have recently raised allegations against the same man.

Her lawsuit accuses the airline of failing to properly investigate what happened, and even altering Pilot M.’s flying schedule so he could avoid prosecution in the state.

CTV News has confirmed that Maui prosecutors are still waiting to serve the pilot with a court summons.

In WestJet’s statement of defence, the airline said it “immediately assisted Lewis upon her return home from Maui by removing her from the rest of her scheduled shift, offering her support, and encouraging her to report the allegations to the Maui police.”

It added that a full investigation was conducted, but couldn’t determine Pilot M. had committed an assault.

WestJet said the investigation did, however, find the pilot had violated its standards of conduct, which bars excessive drinking and fraternizing with flight attendants, and he was suspended.

He was further disciplined by being removed from the Extended-Range Twin-Engine Operations, or ETOPS, which allows pilots to fly international routes, according to the airline.

Pilot M. was eventually re-admitted to ETOPS, WestJet added, and has since flown to Maui.

The airline has asked that Lewis’s claim be dismissed and that it be awarded costs.

None of the allegations in the lawsuit have been proven in court.

Since CTV News broke the story about Lewis’s allegations, more than a dozen other WestJet employees have come forward with claims of sexual assault and harassment, including some that are against Pilot M.

WestJet said it has heard from several workers who have raised new allegations and the company has hired Ernst & Young to investigate.

Mandalena Lewis claims she was sexually assaulted by a WestJet pilot in January 2010, while she working as a flight attendant for the airline. 

A former WestJet flight attendant who claims she was sexually assaulted by a pilot has launched a lawsuit alleging the airline failed to properly investigate what happened.

Vancouver resident Mandalena Lewis, who agreed to have her name publicized in the interest of sharing her story, said the assault took place while she was on a layover at a Hawaiian hotel in January 2010.

According to her civil claim, which was filed in B.C. Supreme Court this week, she met a WestJet pilot identified only as “Pilot M” in his room, where he dragged her onto a bed and proceeded to kiss and grope her against her will.

"She resisted physically, yelling that he stop," her claim reads. "Pilot M did not stop but rather continued to grope and attempt to kiss her.”

Lewis said she was eventually able to fight him off and leave.

Her claim alleges she reported the incident to WestJet shortly after, but the airline “failed to adequately investigate” her allegations.

“All that WestJet did was structure [her] work schedule so that she did not have to work with the pilot,” it reads.

“She was told to keep quiet about the incident notwithstanding that other female flight attendants were working under the pilot.”

Lewis said she was even more distressed after talking to another flight attendant, who claimed to have been sexually assaulted by the same pilot two years earlier.

Her lawsuit alleges that “WestJet knew at least by 2008 that the pilot was a danger to other employees and WestJet had failed to remove him from the workplace.”

She said she demanded WestJet explain what investigation, if any, had been undertaken, but was left waiting for a response. Lewis later went on short-term disability leave for growing anxiety, according to her suit, and was eventually fired after emailing the company to express her frustration at the lack of answers.

Her suit alleges the airline’s conduct was negligent and breached her employment contract, and that her firing was a “retaliation.”

WestJet has yet to file a statement of defence in the case, but told CTV News on Wednesday that it takes the safety of its employees seriously.

“WestJet does not comment on ongoing legal proceedings but confirms it will file a statement of defense in which it will vigorously defend the allegations contained in the claim,” a spokesperson said in an email.

“WestJet further confirms its commitment to maintaining a safe and harassment free environment for its employees and guests and takes its obligations in this respect with the utmost seriousness.”

None of the claims against the airline have been proven in court.  

Lewis's allegations were investigated by police in Hawaii; a Maui prosecutor confirmed to CTV News that a WestJet pilot was charged in the state in 2010.

Original article can be found here:

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