WestJet ha­rass­ment suit opens

Court ‘not proper’ for ha­rass­ment cases: Lawyer

Metro Canada (Vancouver) - - NEWS - David P. Ball

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

DAVID P. BALL METRO

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.

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