Victim of alleged pilot sex assault was fired with cause, WestJet claims
A pilot taxis a Westjet Boeing 737-700 plane to a gate after arriving at Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C., on February 3, 2014. (Darryl Dyck / The Canadian Press)
Published Tuesday, March 22, 2016 3:10PM PDT
Last Updated Wednesday, March 23, 2016 1:34PM PDT
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.