News / Vancouver

Sexual harassment suit against WestJet can proceed, judge rules

The airline had sought to strike down a class action brought by a former flight attendant before it could take flight — meaning plaintiff Mandalena Lewis can apply to have her lawsuit certified.

Mandalena Lewis, photographed in her Vancouver home ahead of court hearings Nov. 9 and 10 in her class action sexual harassment lawsuit against the airline Westjet, where she was a former flight attendant.

David P. Ball / Metro Order this photo

Mandalena Lewis, photographed in her Vancouver home ahead of court hearings Nov. 9 and 10 in her class action sexual harassment lawsuit against the airline Westjet, where she was a former flight attendant.

A former WestJet flight attendant who alleges she was sexually assaulted by a pilot has won the right to apply for her lawsuit to be certified as a class action by the B.C. Supreme Court.

On Friday, a judge ruled that the class action could proceed to certification, meaning Lewis will now be able to apply to represent all female flight attendants working for the airline, in a separate hearing not yet scheduled.

WestJet had applied to have the case dismissed, arguing it should have been heard by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal instead of Supreme Court.

Lawyers for the airline argued that the case would only be appropriate for the B.C. Supreme Court if plaintiff Mandalena Lewis were arguing she was wrongfully dismissed or pushed from her job.

Lewis’ lawyer argued the courts are a proper venue because WestJet's Anti-Harassment Promise was a condition of its employment contracts, and went beyond what's required by law.

Lewis alleges she was sexually assaulted by a WestJet pilot during a 2010 layover in Hawaii.

Those allegations have not been tested in court; after the alleged assault, she said, U.S. police were unable to act on her report after the airline pulled the pilot from overseas flights. But she later met another flight attendant who alleged she'd been sexually assaulted by the same pilot in 2008.

WestJet determined there wasn't enough evidence to determine if the assault happened, and the allegations haven't been tested in court. Lewis was later fired for insubordination.

"I was under the impression that this was an isolated event," Lewis told Metro Nov. 9, the day of opening arguments for the hearing. "That's what WestJet made me believe — and that's why I didn't come forward initially when it first happened to me.

"It's now time for women to decide what to do with their claims. Whether you want to share it with the police, to tell your family, or take it to courts — that's absolutely up to you."

The class action argues that WestJet breached its own employment contract with Lewis and other flight attendants because it did not fulfill its own code of business conduct. The code states that following the code of conduct is a condition of employment, and that harassment and discrimination is prohibited.

—With files from David P. Ball

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