Airline pilot sexual harassment claim back before Employment Court

By Melissa Nightingale


An airline pilot was sacked after allegedly touching a teenage flight attendant's leg under the table and her thigh in her hotel room during a stopover.

The 51-year-old pilot had never met the 19-year-old flight attendant before their overseas layover in the Pacific in August 2013, prior to their return flight to New Zealand.

The first alleged incident happened when the pair and another pilot and two flight attendants were having dinner together on August 17.

The crew members' names and the company they work for is suppressed. The case has been bounced around three courts over three years as the pilot fought to keep his job.

According to a Court of Appeal document, the attendant, who had just started work with the company that month, said the pilot, referred to as 'Mr H', "briefly almost stroked" her leg under the table.

She thought it might have been accidental but said she felt "weird".

Mr H later said he was unaware he touched her leg, but it could have happened accidentally.

The next day, Mr H and the three flight attendants were talking beside the pool when the complainant said she was tempted to go for a swim.

Mr H said "that might be something to look forward to". He later said the statement was taken out of context.

That afternoon, Mr H went into the attendant's hotel room, sat on her bed, got under a blanket, and allegedly reached across and touched her on her upper inner thigh in a sexual manner.

Mr H said he went into the attendant's room to inquire about her welfare. He said he initially sat on the blanket, then adjusted it, and while repositioning himself accidentally brushed against the outside of the attendant's leg.

The attendant filed a complaint after the trip, and told the other captain.

The other captain, who brought the matter up with Mr H after the trip, said he told him it was a mistake to go into the attendant's room, but it was "light hearted fun". On the second captain's account, Mr H's excuse that he went in to check on the attendant's welfare was never mentioned.

The airline's fleet manager launched an investigation and formally dismissed Mr H on October 1.

But Mr H took the matter to the Employment Court, where Judge Bruce Corkill ruled the allegations were not sufficiently investigated.

He ordered Mr H be reinstated, paid wages, and compensated.

The employer then brought the matter to the Court of Appeal, which found the Employment Court's approach to the case was "not correct in law".

They granted the appeal, and ruled his employer did not need to reinstate him, pay wages, and compensation, and sent the matter back to Employment Court to decide on remedies.

One of the reasons the Court of Appeal did not order remedies itself related to a new harassment claim.

"We were advised that after Mr H was reinstated, a new investigation into other allegations of sexual harassment was commenced and there has been a further decision of the Employment Court in relation to that investigation."

They said the new developments might impact remedies.

- NZ Herald

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