Former Strathroy resident and pilot suing WestJet
A former WestJet pilot, originally from Strathroy and who still has property there, has launched a lawsuit against the airline.
It alleges WestJet terminated his employment while he was away from his job battling severe depression last summer.
“It’s not something anyone should go through,” Keith Kippen told CTV London. “I just felt they failed to protect me, to help me when I needed it most. I felt like I was kicked while I was down.”
Kippen, who now lives in Surrey, said he was first diagnosed with depression and anxiety in 2012 and spent the next several years struggling with mental health issues.
“It just got worse and worse,” Kippen says. “It’s a terrible disease.”
He left work and started collecting disability benefits, returning for a few months in 2013 before going on long-term leave.
Kippen said he made attempts to get back to work, but his condition persisted and eventually worsened. In June 2015, the pilot claims he was involuntarily committed to hospital, where he was put on suicide watch.
It’s that month the company fired him for failing to attend a meeting, even though Kippen had been “ordered not to attend” by his treating psychiatrist, according to his lawsuit.
Bomb threats against company
The former pilot also alleges WestJet called police on him after the airline received a series of five bomb threats.
The threats, which began the day after Kippen’s firing, were all determined to be hoaxes. But Kippen said he was arrested and questioned weeks later in Ontario, and a property he owned in Strathroy was searched.
WestJet denies having any part in Kippen’s arrest, but said it did comply with police when asked for his employment records.
The airline declined to speak about the lawsuit Tuesday, but has filed a statement of defence alleging Kippen was fired after he repeatedly failed to provide required medical information.
It also levels four allegations of fraud against the former pilot. Three of them involve instances where Kippen allegedly borrowed money from fellow employees and didn’t pay them back. One man is said to have lent him $210,000 and only ever received $40,000 in repayment.
WestJet said the meeting Kippen failed to attend was related to those concerns.
“Based on the information that it had collected in the course of its investigation into [Kippen’s] conduct, WestJet concluded that [he] had breached WestJet’s Anti-Fraud Policy and Code of Business Conduct,” the airline said in its filing.
Kippen admits he’s had financial problems and been unable to pay back one loan, but doesn’t believe that had anything to do with his firing.
“It’s a smokescreen and we will see what the courts decide,” he said.
Kippen says speaking out has been difficult for him, but he’s hopeful that sharing his story will spare others from a similar experience.
“I just don’t want anyone who pays insurance, who’s employed by a major employer, to go through this sort of thing,” he says. “I went through it alone and it’s a nightmare.”
His lawsuit follows another by former flight attendant Mandalena Lewis, who alleges the airline failed to adequately respond when she reported being sexually assaulted a pilot.
More than a dozen other employees came forward with their own claims of sexual assault and harassment after CTV News broke her story.
WestJet denies all the claims in Lewis’s lawsuit, but said it’s taking the issues raised by other employees in light of her allegations seriously. In March, WestJet hired Ernst & Young to investigate potential issues in the workplace.
None of the claims against the airline have been proven in court.
With a report from CTV Vancouver’s Mi-Jung Lee