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WestJet hires Ernst & Young to review practices after sexual assault suit

FILE PHOTO - A Westjet Boeing 737-700 plane arrives at Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C., on Monday February 3, 2014.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
March 12, 2016 - 6:00 AM

CALGARY - WestJet has hired Ernst & Young to investigate after it says several employees came forward with new information about workplace assault and harassment.

The Calgary-based airline is facing a lawsuit filed by a former flight attendant who says the company failed to adequately investigate after she alleged a pilot had sexually assaulted her.

CEO Gregg Saretsky said the company asked staff to raise any issues they might have related to workplace assault or harassment. Some responded and in light of the new information Ernst & Young has been asked to investigate, he said.

"WestJet intends to defend this lawsuit in court. However, the broader issues of sexual assault and harassment in the workplace that were raised are matters we take most seriously," he said in a statement issued Friday.

Ernst & Young will review WestJet's investigative and reporting procedures as well as its practices for a safe and harassment-free work environment, the statement said.

Lauren Stewart, a spokeswoman for the airline, said once the review is complete, the general recommendations will be made public.

"However, out of respect for the privacy of any individuals identified or described in the report, we will not make public sections of the report involving our employees and their personal information," she said in an email.

Stewart said once WestJet learned of the lawsuit, it immediately began reinvestigating the allegations and encouraged employees to come forward with information about them or any other behaviour that violates its respectful workplace policies.

The airline now has sufficient information to ask Ernst & Young to conduct a review of its practices and procedures, she said.

Ernst & Young declined comment and referred questions to WestJet.

None of the allegations has been proven in court, but former flight attendant Mandalena Lewis alleges in a statement of claim filed in B.C. Supreme Court that WestJet failed to adequately respond to an alleged incident during a stopover in Hawaii in 2010.

Lewis alleges an unnamed pilot invited her back to his hotel room for a drink where he pulled her onto his bed and began kissing and groping her.

She says she reported the incident to WestJet and to police, and the airline instructed her to keep quiet out of respect for the pilot's privacy, telling her there was nothing it could do.

Five years later, a colleague told her she had made a sexual assault complaint about the same pilot in 2008, Lewis alleges.

WestJet said last week that two employees mentioned in the lawsuit have been taken out of active flying duty while the company reviews its investigations into the complaints.

— By Laura Kane in Vancouver

News from © The Canadian Press, 2016
The Canadian Press

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