VANCOUVER — A former flight attendant is taking WestJet to court, accusing the airline of failing to take proper action after she alleged she was sexually assaulted by a pilot and then fired for asking how the company responded to her complaint.
Documents filed this week in B.C. Supreme Court describe how Mandalena Lewis was on a stopover in Hawaii in January 2010 when an unnamed WestJet pilot allegedly pulled her onto a hotel bed and proceeded to kiss and grope her.
“(Lewis) was terrified,” reads a statement of claim filed in the case. “She resisted physically, yelling that he stop. … In her panic, (she) managed to leverage her legs into a position where she was physically able to kick out and push (the pilot) off her.”
After returning to her room, the document says: “She vomited, cried, attempted to calm herself without success and barely slept.”
The court document says after the alleged incident was reported, the Calgary-based company changed Lewis’s work schedule to avoid overlap with the pilot, which left her with fewer working hours. It also alleges that she was instructed to keep quiet out of respect for the pilot’s privacy.
Lewis’s lawyer, Sean Hern, said his client has consented to her name being made public.
None of the allegations have been proven in court and WestJet has not filed a statement of defence.
In an email, the company says it doesn’t comment on ongoing legal proceedings but adds that it intends to defend itself against the lawsuit.
The company says it takes seriously its commitment to ensuring a safe and harassment-free environment for both its employees and passengers.
Last year Lewis says she met another flight attendant for the first time who had filed a similar complaint with the airline in 2008 about the same pilot. The statement of claim alleges that she also had been encouraged to stay quiet.
It says Lewis was “demoralized, frustrated and degraded,” and became concerned that she and other flight attendants had been at risk because the airline didn’t adequately investigate the pilot’s alleged behaviour in 2008.
“In other words, had WestJet lived up to its commitments to provide a safe working environment for its employees, (Lewis) would not have been sexually assaulted,” reads the statement of claim.
Lewis was fired earlier this year for “insubordination,” but the court document alleges the reason for her dismissal was Lewis’s repeated requests to view her employee file in order to learn what the company had done about her complaint.
“WestJet’s conduct has been negligent, retaliatory, unlawful and unacceptable,” reads the statement of claim.