WestJet dis­putes va­lid­ity of law­suit

National Post (Latest Edition) - - FINANCIAL POST - Geor­don Omand

• WestJet says a pro­posed class-ac­tion law­suit that ac­cuses the com­pany of fail­ing to pro­vide a ha­rass­ment- free work­place for fe­male em­ploy­ees is an abuse of process that should be thrown out of court.

The Cal­gary-based air­line ar­gued in Bri­tish Columbia Supreme Court on Thurs­day that the le­gal claim would be bet­ter dealt with through a hu­man rights tri­bunal or work­ers’ com­pen­sa­tion board.

The com­pany’s lawyer, Don Dear, said WestJet is not dis­put­ing the sub­stance of the al­le­ga­tions but be­lieves the ar­gu­ments are be­ing heard in an im­proper venue.

“This is not a de­fence of poor be­hav­iour or an ar­gu­ment that sex­ual ha­rass­ment is any­thing other than com­pletely in­ap­pro­pri­ate and com­pletely wrong,” Dear told the court.

“Any mis­be­haviour, any wrong­ful be­hav­iour, any un­law­ful be­hav­iour is in no way be­ing con­doned by WestJet.”

For­mer flight at­ten­dant Man dale na Lewis sued WestJet over al­le­ga­tions of gen­der- based dis­crim­i­na­tion, ac­cus­ing her for­mer em­ployer of fos­ter­ing a cor­po­rate cul­ture that tol­er­ates ha­rass­ment against its fe­male em­ploy­ees.

None of the al­le­ga­tions has been proven in court.

The law­suit is framed as a breach of con­tract, al­leg­ing the air­line broke a con­trac­tual prom­ise to pre­vent its em­ploy­ees from ex­pe­ri­enc­ing ha­rass­ment in the work­place.

It would be a waste of the court’s re­sources to deal with the claim, Dear ar­gued, ac­cus­ing the plain­tiff of by­pass­ing the proper route for deal­ing with a hu­man rights com­plaint or worker’s griev­ance.

“If this ac­tion is per­mit­ted to pro­ceed on the ba­sis of a con­tract, that in ef­fect evis­cer­ates these ad­min­is­tra­tive boards that have been charged by the leg­is­la­ture to deal with these is­sues,” he said.

The plain­tiff wants to pun­ish WestJet and change its be­hav­iour, which is more ap­pro­pri­ately dealt with through a hu­man rights tri­bunal, Dear said.

WestJet’s lawyer also took is­sue with the plain­tiff ’ s ar­gu­ment that the air­line ben­e­fited fi­nan­cially from its fail­ure to pro­tect its em­ploy­ees and thus should have to re­lin­quish some of its prof­its, call­ing it a “fan­ci­ful sub­mis­sion.”

Lewis was present for the pro­ceed­ings, ac­com­pa­nied by sev­eral women wear­ing white T- shirts with the words “Me Too” in l arge black let­ter­ing, a ref­er­ence to a so­cial me­dia move­ment that shares in­di­vid­ual sto­ries of sex­ual ha­rass­ment and as­sault af­ter al­le­ga­tions of mis­con­duct were made against film ex­ec­u­tive Har­vey We­in­stein.

WestJet’s vice- pres­i­dent of em­ployee and labour re­la­tions, Jeff Land­mann, de­clined to com­ment out­side court.

Lewis filed an ear­lier law­suit against the air­line, say­ing she had been sex­u­ally as­saulted by a pi­lot while on a stopover in Hawaii in 2010.

WestJet re­jected al­le­ga­tions that it failed to take ap­pro­pri­ate ac­tion af­ter she re­ported the in­ci­dent. In its state­ment of de­fence, it said it im­me­di­ately launched an in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Lewis’s com­plaint, but the com­pany was ul­ti­mately un­able to con­clude the pi­lot had com­mit­ted an as­sault.

ANY MIS­BE­HAVIOUR … IS IN NO WAY BE­ING CON­DONED.

DAR­RYL DYCK / THE CANA­DIAN PRESS FILES

A WestJet lawyer ar­gues that ha­rass­ment claims, while po­ten­tially le­git­i­mate, should not be dealt with via a law­suit.

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