Female pilot says sexism made her quit; wants her job back


Jane Clegg in the cockpit in happier days

MISOGYNY KNOWS NO RHYME OR REASON. If it did it would treat Jane Clegg and Tammie Jo Shults the same. But it doesn’t.

It treats Jane Clegg like a zero, because of her gender. It treats Tammie Jo Shults like a hero, ignoring her gender.

Both women are airline pilots. Tammie Jo Shults recently safely landed a damaged Southwest Airlines plane with 149 people on board. She deserves all the praise she gets.

Jane Clegg was a pilot for Air Canada. She quit in April 2013 when the sexism she faced on the job overwhelmed her. She is fighting to get her old job back.

Sexism clouds the horizon

Jane Clegg lives to fly. She did it for three decades with the military and Air Canada. She was part of the military’s VIP squadron, flying the prime minister and members of the royal family. Her skill as a pilot was never an issue. Her gender was.

Actually, it was Air Canada’s failure to see how much gender mattered that is the basis of Jane’s complaint being heard by the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

Jane told the tribunal hearing on April 23 it was the way Air Canada management handled an incident that eventually led her to quit the airline.

The incident happened in 2009 when Jane was assigned to work as the second officer on a flight to Fort Lauderdale. She was concerned the plane didn’t have enough fuel. The male captain disagreed. The disagreement built into a heated argument. Jane ultimately refused to sign the flight plan. She was replaced on the flight.

“I believed the incident was motivated by gender discrimination,” Clegg told the tribunal.

She was later assigned to work on another flight with the same pilot. When she raised concerns, she was effectively suspended without pay.

“It felt like open season on female pilots,” said Clegg. “This truly was the beginning of the end of my career.”

Air Canada claims to have a zero tolerance policy on sexual harassment. It says that since no formal harassment complaint was filed, it considered the issue a personality conflict and suggested Clegg use the company’s “book-around” system to manage the situation.   

That is: the boss put the onus on the worker to accommodate sexism. This meant she was expected to switch her flights, sometimes to lesser routes, for less pay.

Jane says she’s not the only female pilot put in that position.

“I know there are female pilots at Air Canada who are altering their own personal work schedules to avoid having to share the small confines of an aircraft flight deck with somebody who’s treating them inappropriately.”

In her view, the airline equated the situation to “two guys who just don’t get along.”

She points out what Air Canada just couldn’t grasp was: “there’s a difference between not liking somebody and somebody who is intentionally diminishing your professional standing—simply because of your gender.”



The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)  filed a complaint this month with the Canadian Human Rights Commission, claiming that Air Canada flight attendants face rampant sexual harassment and discrimination, and that the airline has done little to address the problem.

The union claims Air Canada ran training sessions where flight attendants had to model the new uniform, and were told to “strut their stuff” down a makeshift runway — complete with a spin at the end — in what the union called “a sexualized fashion show.”

The complaint also claims flight attendants faced scrutiny off the runway: Managers lined them up in the hallway in their new uniforms and graded how they looked. They even assessed their makeup and nails, the union said.

The statement also says a manager told female flight attendants they should wear the optional dress uniform more often “in order to ‘show more cleavage’ to customers.”

The complaint also referenced an updated handbook for flight attendants that dictates what colour and type of undergarment to wear, and dedicates three pages to makeup advice for female employees. Tips include the best way to apply lipstick and how to accent eyebrows with a highlighter.


Survey of colleagues

Wondering if it was “just me,” Jane Clegg compiled a survey about gender discrimination and distributed it to other female pilots.

“I wanted to determine if this was something isolated or if this was something that my female pilot colleagues had also encountered,” she said.

“Eighty per cent of the female pilots who had reported (back to me) had experienced incidents of harassment.”

Many of the respondents altered their work schedules to avoid the perpetrators of harassment and most said they didn’t have confidence that their complaints would be properly addressed, Clegg said.

All blue skies says Air Canada

“Air Canada never had a chance to address the complaint under its discrimination policies because no formal — or informal — complaint was ever filed,” said an Air Canada lawyer.

In arguing against an order of reinstatement, the company lawyer said Clegg’s actions in quitting her job were over the top, considering the allegations.

“Resignation was a disproportionate response,” she said.

Porn in the cockpit

Air Canada talks a good game about a zero tolerance on sexual harassment. But history proves whatever they are doing is not enough.

In 2007 a female pilot says she started finding pornography displayed, glued and tucked in a variety of areas in the cockpit on Air Canada’s Embraer fleet of planes.

Air Canada investigated her complaint and found “evidence of racial or ethnic prejudice as well as sexual materials in the work place,” according to documents obtained by CBC News.

The pilot provided Transport Canada inspectors with photos and video of the sexually explicit, and at times violent, images she says she found.

“Someone has drawn a knife in the back of the girl on the right hand side,” she writes in one email.

Whatever measures Air Canada took to keep porn out of the cockpit since then didn’t do much. So little in fact it issued an internal bulletin in 2013 warning flight crews they could be fired or face criminal charges for placing “inappropriate material” in the cockpit.   

This bulletin came just four months after a similar reminder to stop hiding “suggestive images in Company aircraft”.

A better work experience

Jane Clegg hopes that the tribunal will rule that Air Canada must rehire her. She also hopes their rulings will result in policy changes that can and do root out systemic sexism at Air Canada, to make it the kind of place she would want to work.

 “There were women that came before me that paved the way for my career to be what it was,” says Jane. “And, I very much want my legacy to be that my career paved the way for younger generations of women to be able to enjoy a better work experience than than I had.”

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