VANCOUVER – WestJet is rejecting allegations that it failed to take appropriate action after a former flight attendant reported being sexually assaulted by a pilot in 2010 while on an overnight stopover in Hawaii.
The Calgary-based airline’s statement of defence, filed Tuesday in British Columbia Supreme Court, said it immediately launched an internal investigation into Mandalena Lewis’s complaint, but that the company was ultimately unable to conclude the pilot had committed such an assault.
Lewis filed a notice of civil claim earlier this month describing how, after an evening of communal drinking in Maui, an unnamed pilot invited Lewis back to his room where he allegedly pulled her onto a hotel bed and began kissing and groping her.
In its defence document, WestJet said “excessive drinking, partying and fraternizing with flight attendants” fails to meet professional standards and that it suspended the pilot in question.
The document said WestJet also issued the pilot a “last chance” warning and deprived him of the privilege of international flights, something Lewis alleged equates to the company protecting him from law enforcement in Maui.
None of the allegations made in the statement of claim or defence have been proven in court.
Lewis is also suing WestJet over breach of contract and wrongful dismissal, saying she was terminated because of her repeated requests to view her employee file in order to learn what the company did about her complaint.
WestJet took aim at Lewis’s employment history, saying its decision to fire Lewis earlier this year was rather the result of her perennially shoddy attendance, inappropriate use of social media and aggressive communication style.
“Lewis’s employment … was marred by significant performance deficiencies,” read the statement of defence. “She was consistently performance managed for poor attendance failure to adhere to WestJet policies and other performance deficiencies.”
The document also described one alleged instance where Lewis was removed from a shift over concerns she and two others drank alcohol before shift, which led to the flight being cancelled.
Lewis dismissed the allegations as a red herring meant to distract from the core issue of flight-attendant safety.
“This corporation is stepping away instead of stepping up. They continue to prove their failure to protect their flight attendants,” she said in an interview Tuesday, describing herself as outraged.
“It’s very obvious that they are completely out of touch with what is going on in their workplace…. It’s unbelievable.”
The WestJet document also highlighted an alleged instance where Lewis had posted expletive-laden posts on social media directed towards both the airline and its customers. It said she was fired on Jan. 12, 2016, for “gross insubordination” after she sent an email containing a swear word to management demanding to see her employment file.
“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 wrote.
“The employment relationship was fundamentally and irreparably damaged by Lewis’s conduct.”
Lewis said most of what was contained in WestJet’s statement of defence was false and that she was determined to prove that in court.
“I will not be distracted or diverted by any red herrings,” she said. “It’s just refusing to address the core issue.”