WestJet takes two employees out of flying duty in wake of sex-assault allegation

CALGARY -- WestJet has grounded two employees after a lawsuit was filed by a former flight attendant that contends the company failed to take proper action after she alleged she was sexually assaulted by a pilot.

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Airline spokeswoman Lauren Stewart said in an email that two employees mentioned in the court filings have been taken out of active flying duty while the company reviews investigations it conducted into allegations of sexual assault.

CEO Gregg Saretsky said in a statement posted online Friday that the employees were removed from service because of concern about their well-being and the safe operation of the airline.

Former flight attendant Mandalena Lewis launched a lawsuit against the Calgary-based airline arguing the company failed to respond adequately after she reported an alleged sexual assault by a pilot during a stopover six years ago in Hawaii.

Lewis said in a statement of claim filed with the B.C. Supreme Court that she met another flight attendant last year who reported being sexually assaulted by the same pilot and was allegedly told by WestJet to keep quiet.

None of the allegations have been proven in court. The company has not filed a statement of defence but has said it intends to fight the lawsuit.

Saretsky said in his statement that he takes seriously his responsibility to the airline's more than 11,000 workers.

"Every company has a responsibility to ensure the safety and well-being of all its employees, and this is a responsibility we take most seriously at WestJet," Saretsky wrote.

"As a husband, father of a daughter and brother to a sister I understand how important it is to get this right, no matter the role or gender of the complainant."

Saretsky said WestJet has an active whistleblower hotline and safety-reporting system, and that employees are encouraged to raise concerns with management.

Lewis's statement of claim says she was staying overnight in Hawaii in 2010 when an unnamed WestJet pilot allegedly pulled her onto a hotel bed and proceeded to kiss and grope her.

She said she felt "demoralized, frustrated and degraded" by the airline's response after she reported the alleged incident, especially after learning it had allegedly received a similar complaint against the same pilot two years earlier.

Lewis also accused the company of firing her earlier this year in response to her repeated requests to view her employee file to determine how the company had responded to her complaint.

By Geordon Omand in Vancouver


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