An appeal by WestJet to have a proposed class action lawsuit involving claims of workplace sexual harassment thrown out by the BC Supreme Court has failed.
WestJet argued that the courts were an inappropriate venue for the complaint to be addressed, and said the case would be better handled by a human rights tribunal.
Justice Mary Humphries said in her decision that the case deals with a breach of contract, so the courts are an appropriate venue.
Former WestJet flight attendant Mandalena Lewis, who claims the airline violated its own anti-harassment policies, said she’s relieved by the ruling — both for her and for women who have gone through similar experiences in the workplace.
“It’s setting a precedent for women to tell women that if this does happen in your work environment — that you can take your employer, if they have broken their anti-harassment contract, then they can go through this route. This is an available route for women.”
WestJet acknowledged the outcome of the motion but declined to comment further.
In a previous statement to Global News, WestJet said it is “committed to fostering a harassment-free workplace where all employees are treated with respect and dignity.”
The Supreme Court’s decision on Friday means that the proposed lawsuit can continue to certification and potentially go to trial.
Lewis claims she was sexually assaulted by a WestJet pilot in Maui in 2010. She claims the airline took steps to silence her and protect the pilot from being charged before eventually terminating her from the company.
“WestJet basically told me to be quiet about the incident, and that it was an isolated event, and to sign a non-disclosure agreement — and sort of encouraged me to leave the company because I wasn’t happy with how they dealt with it,” said Lewis.
“They basically said that it was my word against his. They were concerned about reprimanding the pilot in any sort of fashion because they were concerned that he would actually sue them.”
Lewis says that the pilot has charges pending in Maui, but claims that WestJet prevented him from flying over water — a move that she claims was put in place to protect him.
Lewis says she was inspired to start the lawsuit after a former colleague told her she was raped by the same pilot who Lewis alleges assaulted her. She says she has heard reports of 19 similar incidents within WestJet.
None of the allegations have been proven in court.
– With files from Rahul Kalvapalle and the Canadian Press