News / Vancouver

Ex-WestJet flight attendant 'livid' after airline appeals sexual harassment lawsuit ruling

Calgary airline wants court to overturn a judge's Dec. 15 decision that would have opened door to class action lawsuit being considered

Mandalena Lewis stands in front of her Vancouver home ahead of court hearings in November, in which her former employer WestJet attempted unsuccessfully to strike her class action sexual harassment lawsuit before it could be certified.

David P. Ball / Metro

Mandalena Lewis stands in front of her Vancouver home ahead of court hearings in November, in which her former employer WestJet attempted unsuccessfully to strike her class action sexual harassment lawsuit before it could be certified.

The airline WestJet has once again argued that women shouldn't bring sexual harrassment complaints against it in the courts, but rather that such concerns are more "appropriately brought" using other avenues.

On Jan. 12, the airline appealed a judge's ruling in favour of Mandalena Lewis, an ex-flight attendant hoping to lead a class action lawsuit against her former employer over its handling of sexual assault and harassment.

The company requested "an order quashing the judgment of Madam Justice (Mary) Humphries, and further that the plaintiff's notice of civil claim be struck out, in whole or in part … as this action is appropriately brought before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal and the provincial Workers Compensation Boards."

Mandalena Lewis told Metro she is "livid" after the airline appealed its court set-back last month.

"It's kind of disrespectful to try to challenge the judge's decision after so much back and forth over two days," she said in a phone interview. "What they've done here is showcase just how painful this process is.

"It's brazen. What a time to be doing this, with the Me Too movement and women coming forward with absolute truth. On the one hand, it's pretty obvious they don't want my class action to keep going. They're adamant about trying to shut this down as soon as possible."

Lewis alleges she was sexually assaulted by a WestJet pilot in 2010, but that the airline failed to properly respond, ultimately firing her for insubordination and she said allowing the pilot to continue flying. She later learned several other attendants had alleged sexual assault by the same pilot.

WestJet determined there wasn't enough evidence to determine if the assault happened, and the allegations haven't been tested in court.

On Dec. 15, WestJet failed in its attempt to have the case thrown out before it ever gets a certification hearing — which is required if Lewis is allowed to represent all women employees in a class action lawsuit — when Justice Humphries rejected the airline's strike motion.

Lewis said she's heard from many supportive employees at WestJet, an airline that uses the line "owners care" in its advertising because its workers own shares in the company. In December, several WestJet employees attended the failed strike hearing wearing #MeToo t-shirts.

"There's a whole army of people at WestJet who disagree with what they're doing," Lewis said. "I've felt the support, I expected the public to not react well because … the risk you take is you go public with your story and people say, 'WestJet is my favourite airline,' or slut-shame and ask, 'What were you doing in that room? Why were you drinking.'

"But a lot of people at WestJet understood why I took that risk … Women are starting the break through, finding their own voice, and it's the right thing to do, that's the right thing for everyone. This is not what WestJet means to its owners."

WestJet also asked the court to reject Lewis' claim because it relates to "allegations of activities that occurred more than two years prior" and to the expiry of the statute of limitations deadline, and seeks its legal costs paid by Lewis.

On Nov. 9 the company's lawyer, Don Dear, argued in court that "The proceedings are without foundation and serve no useful purpose whatsoever," and "matters not properly before this court."

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