WestJet employees speak out in wake of pilot sex assault allegations

Current and former WestJet employees are raising troubling concerns about the airline’s workplace culture, days after a lawsuit was filed alleging the company told a flight attendant to stay quiet about being sexually assaulted by a pilot.

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In her suit, Mandalena Lewis claims she was kissed and groped against her will by a man identified only as “Pilot M” during a layover at the Makena Beach Resort in Hawaii in January 2010.

Lewis said she reported the incident to WestJet, but the airline failed to investigate it. Instead, she alleges WestJet told her to “keep quiet” then adjusted the pilot’s schedule so he wouldn’t be arrested by Hawaiian authorities.

On Thursday, one current employee, who asked not to be identified to protect her job, told CTV News the lawsuit has left some WestJet workers feeling unprotected.

“WestJet dropped the ball. Our people were not taken care of,” she said.

“Flight attendants are… fearful that the company has allowed this to go unchecked for as long as it has.”

She said employees are also afraid that speaking out within the company will result in retribution.

“Management has outright said that they will expunge people who are causing disruption within the workplace, and that people who are questioning the system are no longer welcome,” she said.

Lewis claims she was fired in January, almost eight years after she started with WestJet, for demanding the airline explain how it had investigated her alleged assault.

Another flight attendant, Daniel Kufuor-Boakye, was fired a few days after Lewis. He told CTV News they were both involved in a union drive, and he believes that may have played a role in their dismissals.

“Something to instill fear in people whose voice may be used to bring a union into a company,” Kufuor-Boakye said.

In the wake of Lewis’s allegations, an online petition has also been launched calling on WestJet’s CEO to step down. By Thursday evening, more than 12,000 people had signed.

CTV News has also learned of six other women alleging they've been sexually assaulted, and who have requested the contact information for Lewis's lawyer.

On Thursday, the airline released a statement saying it takes the employees’ allegations very seriously.

“We are committed to maintaining a safe and healthy workplace environment, and encourage our employees to report any behaviour that may violate our policies,” WestJet said in an email.

The company has also pledged to “vigorously defend the allegations” in Lewis’s lawsuit, but has yet to file a statement of defence in the case.

None of the claims against the airline have been proven in court.

With a report from CTV Vancouver’s Mi-Jung Lee


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