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B.C. Court of Appeal certifies former flight attendant’s class-action lawsuit against WestJet

The B.C. Court of Appeal has certified a former flight attendant’s class-action lawsuit against WestJet Airlines, overturning the ruling of the B.C. Supreme Court judge who had dismissed her application.

Former WestJet flight attendant Mandalena Lewis filed the suit against WestJet in 2016, alleging the airline breached its contract by failing to create a safe work environment for female flight attendants.

Lewis has also launched a separate lawsuit against the company, claiming it didn’t take proper action after she reported being sexually assaulted by a pilot while on a stopover in Hawaii. She claims the company chose to protect the pilot and fired her.

Court overturns original dismissal

Her initial bid to have her class action lawsuit certified failed when the court ruled she had not been able to establish that this type of suit was the most efficient and fair course of action to resolve her claims.

“I conclude that there are other reasonably available means for class members to achieve substantive and procedural justice that are more practical and efficient than a class proceeding,” B.C. Supreme Court Justice Karen Horsman, wrote in her decision.

Horsman found the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal or collective bargaining would be a more efficient means of redress.

However, the Court of Appeal’s Justice Peter Voith disagreed, finding the lower court judge had made errors in law when evaluating the criteria for a class-action lawsuit and determining whether it met the legal grounds as the “preferential procedure.”

b c court of appeal certifies former flight attendants class action lawsuit against westjet
Mandalena Lewis, left, used to work for WestJet. She claims the airline didn’t take proper action after she reported being sexually assaulted by a pilot while on a stopover in Hawaii. (Mandalena Lewis/Facebook)

Voith found the other judge misconstrued Lewis’s claim as one of workplace discrimination when she suggested the class action be better suited to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.

“In a human rights complaint, only those class members who had actually suffered discrimination, in the form of harassment or otherwise, could potentially seek monetary compensation,” wrote Voith.

But since the class action wasn’t alleging harassment but breach of contract, Voith determined that it was, in fact, the preferential procedure.

It’s an important distinction, said Lewis’s lawyer Karey Brooks.

“The claim is not about damages for harassment occurring. That is key,” she said.

“I think what’s really significant about this case and why it’s so important is … it doesn’t require women to be harassed in order to enforce contractual rights they have to a harassment-free workplace.”

For Lewis, she admits she feels like she’s in a state of shock following the  class-action certification.

“I’m really thrilled,” she said. “I kind of can’t believe because it’s been such a long time… I just feel so pleased.”

Lewis and Brooks will now have the chance to prove their class-action claims in court.

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