WestJet harassment suit opens
Court ‘not proper’ for harassment cases: Lawyer
Should women sexually assaulted or harassed take their cases before a judge — instead of the court of public opinion or social media?
Not according to the country’s second-largest airline, WestJet, whose lawyer called Thursday for a former flight attendant’s class-action sexual harassment lawsuit to be tossed because, “It’s inappropriate to bring forward a discrimination claim to the court” unless those women were forced from their jobs.
“The proceedings are without foundation and serve no useful purpose whatsoever,” said airline lawyer Don Dear in his opening arguments. “These are matters not properly before this court.”
Instead, he argued, former flight attendant Mandalena Lewis — who alleges she was sexually assaulted by a WestJet pilot during a 2010 layover — should have taken her case to either the Workers’ Compensa- tion Board or the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, as an individual. He also said she missed the two-year window for a civil case after her assault.
“That’s hurtful,” Lewis said outside the B.C. Supreme Court afterwards. “This is a systemic issue that’s going on at WestJet, and it would be absolutely appalling to ask for these women to come forward as individuals to a human rights board to put their complaints through.”
After Lewis’ alleged assault, she said, U.S. police were unable to act on her report after the airline pulled him 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.
“I was under the impression that this was an isolated event,” she said. “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.”
But WestJet’s lawyer countered that the courts would be appropriate only if her case was about being fired or pushed to quit.
Lewis was later fired for insubordination, but her own separate wrongful dismissal suit was paused pending the still-uncertified class-action case.
Her lawyer, Karey Brooks, argued Thursday 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.
It’s now time for women to decide what to do with their claims. Mandalena Lewis
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 light attendant.