Former flight attendant writes letter to YVR, sheds light on sexual harassment in airline industry

Richmond News

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Mandalena Lewis, a former WestJet flight attendant, outside Vancouver International Airport on July 6. Photo: Mandalena Lewis/Twitter

A former WestJet flight attendant has issued a letter to Vancouver International Airport after she was asked to leave the premise last Friday while raising awareness about sexual harassment in the airline industry.

Mandalena Lewis, who used to work out of YVR, is currently involved in a proposed class action lawsuit against former employer WestJet. Lewis told the company she was sexually assaulted by a pilot in 2010 and says they have failed to protect their female flight attendants. Now, Lewis says she hopes to “shed light on the covering up” of assault.

“Sexual assault and harassment in the airline industry is a systemic and historic problem,” Lewis told the Richmond News.

WestJet appealed to strike the claim which was denied late last year. The next appeal is set for January 2019. A WestJet spokesperson told the Richmond News by email that the company would not comment on the matter as it was currently before the courts.

After she came forward publicly in 2016, Lewis said other women began to reach out to her and share their own stories with her.

“Once they do report and if they do report that they are silenced. They are re-victimized, a lot of them lose their job, many have been forced to sign (non-disclosure agreements) and I know a handful of women that have taken settlements so that they don’t go public,” she said, adding that it has been painful to hear from so many women about their experiences.

“The biggest part of the pain is that I can’t do anything…as I’m trying, even in the last three years, women have been sexually assaulted. So it becomes engulfing.”

Last week, Lewis took her message to YVR and gave out pamphlets about her campaign #youcrewmetoo, which describes itself as “an online support community for flight crew experiencing sexual harassment at work.”

But after approximately two hours, Lewis was asked to leave the airport. She says she was given multiple reasons including conflict of interest, trespassing and the fact that her pamphlets named WestJet specifically.

As a result Lewis sent the letter to YVR on Wednesday which states her desire to “work together to identify a way (she) can exercise (her) expression in this issue at the airport.”

“It is troubling to me that YVR personnel would remove community members who are peacefully and quietly expressing support for sexual assault survivors and challenging systemic sexism,” the letter says.

A spokesperson from YVR told the Richmond News they weren’t aware Lewis would be at the airport, adding they encourage her to be in touch with the operations team if she plans to campaign at the airport again. After receiving the letter from Lewis, the airport says they are now in direct communication “to clarify (their) policy she she can come back out to YVR to raise awareness.”

Lewis indicated in her letter that she would like to return to YVR on July 20.

“We’re planning a big movement there. We’re planning on a lot of a support. We want to make a big statement here and we need to show up because these employers have been taking advantage of their power for far too long,” she told the News.

“I’m really fed up…There is wide-spread pain and fear. Too much fear.”

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