Former Westjet flight attendant Mandalena Lewis is celebrating today after a “very big” decision from a BC Supreme Court judge.
Justice Mary Humphries threw out the Canadian airline’s attempt to block her sexual harassment case from moving forward.
“The fact that our case is allowed to proceed at this point is very big because this would have been Westjet’s opportunity to shut this down or reroute it,” Lewis told VICE.
Lewis launched a class action suit against WestJet in 2016 alleging widespread sexual misconduct against female flight attendants. Her case argues that systemic mishandling of assault and harassment complaints violates the company’s own employment policies.
Court filings allege Lewis was sexually assaulted by a pilot in 2010 during a stopover in Hawaii. The pilot allegedly dragged Lewis to his hotel bed and groped her, but she pushed him off and got away.
“I was not raped, but it was attempted, and it was an awful experience,” she told VICE last month. “It’s something nobody should ever have to go through.”
Lewis claims the company repeatedly fails victims who report assaults like hers. She alleges the pilot was not disciplined or fired, and she was told to keep quiet about the incident. She also alleges the company dropped her from flights with the pilot and lost income as a result. Later, she discovered another attendant was allegedly assaulted by the same pilot in 2008.
Lewis told VICE this adds to a company-wide culture that degrades and sexualizes female flight attendants on the job. Because of the power imbalance between mostly-male pilots and mostly-female attendants, most women choose not to speak up, she said.
“A lot of people are there trying to make it work, trying to change it, but that’s not going to work until we pinpoint what the problem is,” she told VICE.
WestJet argued that Lewis should have taken up her complaint with the workers’ compensation board, or launched a human rights complaint. “They thought this was an inappropriate venue to go through with this claim and it’s not a systemic issue,” she told VICE.
VICE reached out to the lawyers representing WestJet but did not immediately hear back. Lewis’s claims against the company have not been tested in court. BC’s top court will make a decision whether or not to certify her case sometime in 2018.
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