FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — A Southwest Airlines pilot is suing the company, his union and a former co-worker who pleaded guilty last year to slamming the cockpit door and stripping naked in front of her during a flight.
Christine Janning claims Southwest retaliated against her for reporting Michael Haak to the company and the FBI, that he stayed on the job despite alleged sexual harassment, and that managers belittled her in memos.
She also claims that the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association colluded with the airline and refused to support her. She sued Haak for sexual assault. He pleaded guilty last year to a federal charge of lewd, lascivious or indecent conduct and was sentenced to probation.
Haak’s attorney, Michael Salnick, said Wednesday that his client only stripped after Janning encouraged him to, never did anything else and that there were no prior incidents. Southwest said it stands by Janning and will “vigorously defend” the lawsuit. The union did not return a phone call seeking comment.
The Associated Press does not typically identify people who say they are victims of sex crimes, but Janning, through her attorney, agreed to use her name.
According to the lawsuit filed last week in Orange County, Florida, Janning never met Haak until August 2020, when she was his co-pilot on a flight from Philadelphia to Orlando. She says Haak, a 27-year veteran of the airline, used his work privileges the day before to shoot down another pilot who was supposed to be piloting the flight. Janning believes it’s because he saw a woman who was the co-pilot.
Janning said that when they reached cruising altitude, Haak told her that this was his last flight and that he wanted to do something before he retired.
She said he closed the door so the flight attendant couldn’t get in. He then put the plane on autopilot, undressed, started watching pornography on a laptop and for 30 minutes committed lewd acts while taking photos and videos of himself.
Salnick said it was Janning who asked Haak if there was anything he wanted to do before he retired. When he said he wanted to fly naked, she told him to go ahead and then sexually assaulted him after he undressed, Salnick said. He said Haak rejected them and vehemently denied wrongdoing.
At a sentencing hearing last year, Haak called the incident a “prank” that got out of hand.
Janning’s attorney, Frank Podesta, denied that she encouraged Haak or sought any advances.
Janning said in the lawsuit that she was “horrified,” but she continued to fly the plane, taking pictures “to set the record straight.” The plane landed safely.
And this was not Haak’s last flight – he flew for another three weeks.
Meanwhile, Janning did not report the incident to Southwest’s employee relations investigator until three months later. She said she waited because her boss had previously humiliated her in front of a male colleague. She said she asked the investigator not to tell her boss, but she did.
Janning says she was told shortly after that the investigation into the airline was closed because Haak had retired. Janning then went to the FBI, which indicted Haak. She claims Southwest sent Haak to a sexual harassment counseling center in Montreal after a 2008 incident involving a flight attendant.
Salnick says that incident never happened, and Haak was never sent to a counseling center.
“This person will do and say whatever it takes to make a financial gain. I feel sorry for her,” said Salnik.
Janning said she was arrested for more than three months in retaliation for the FBI report, costing her part of her wages. She was then required to undergo “unnecessary” flight simulator training before she could work again.
She also said that on the day she was apprehended, the airline grounded her in Denver and the FBI had to book her a United Airlines flight so she could return home to Florida. She said a Southwest manager sent a memo to more than 25 employees “who made baseless allegations” about her flying skills.
Southwest denied Janning’s allegations, saying “we immediately supported (Janning) by cooperating with the appropriate outside agencies during their investigation.”
“Our corporate culture is built on treating others with mutual respect and dignity, and the events reported in this situation are not consistent with the behavior we require of our employees,” the statement said.
She said when she contacted the union, its leaders did nothing to help her, but wrote a letter to Judge Haak during his misdemeanor case saying he had an “impeccable” record.
Hearings are not scheduled.
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