An Alaska Airlines pilot has sued the airline, alleging she was drugged and raped by another pilot during a layover last year.
The lawsuit by Betty Pina, 39, was filed in King County Superior Court in Washington state on Wednesday, 20 days after it was presented to the airline on February 13. A copy of the complaint was provided by her lawyer, Eric John Makus.
It claims that Pina, an Army veteran who flew helicopter missions in Afghanistan, was the co-pilot on a June flight with the captain from Anchorage to Seattle to Minneapolis, where the two had a scheduled layover.
According to the complaint, the pilot asked Pina to join him for pizza and drinks in the hotel bar where flight crews spend time. Once there, Pina said she had one glass of wine, and then he brought her a second. Sitting on a stool, she had a “hard time keeping her head up” and “things appeared to be closing in,” the complaint says.
It claims that he proceeded to “drug Ms. Pina and rape her during a state of involuntary intoxication.”
The lawsuit was reported this week by The Seattle Times and other local news outlets.
In an interview on Thursday, Pina, reached between flights, repeated many of the details in the lawsuit. It says she blacked out, and when she came to early the next morning, she was in his hotel room bed, naked from the waist down; her underwear was in her purse.
“I knew something gravely bad had happened,” she said in the interview.
In the lawsuit, she said she was sick and vomited, and when she “challenged” the pilot, he denied that there had been sexual contact and replied, “You were coming on to me pretty hard.”
According to the lawsuit, a flight attendant told a flight operations officer that she saw the pilot walking down the hall “with a girl and two glasses of wine,” and that the attendant expressed concern about flying with him.
The two were taken off duty for the return to Seattle on June 6, the day after the episode. Pina said that over subsequent weeks, she reported details of what she could remember to the union, an airline human resource official and an investigator referred by the airline. She did not report the episode to police.
She did not fly again until January, she said.
Pina is seeking damages for workplace rape and the airline’s “unlawfully retaliatory” actions, according to the complaint. It claims that the airline has failed to hold the male pilot accountable and that he poses a “threat to other employees.”
US courts have previously tackled the issue of sexual harassment of flight crews during layovers, expanding the definition of a worksite. In 2001, a federal appeals court in New York ruled that Delta Air Lines was potentially liable for not doing enough to stop what a flight attendant said was a rape by another attendant, even though the events occurred when the two were off duty in a hotel room.
In a statement, Alaska Airlines said it was taking the matter seriously.
“Our policy is to withhold an employee from work during this type of investigation,” it said. “He was immediately removed from flying back in June and remains on leave pending the outcome of the investigation.”
The pilot, who is not named as a defendant, could not be reached Friday. He has not been charged with a crime.
Pina has been flying for 17 years, including seven years of active duty military service that included flying Chinook helicopters in Afghanistan, for which she was featured in a PBS documentary series “Kansas to Kandahar: Citizen Soldiers at War.”
She started working for Alaska Airlines in 2016. She said that after years in the military, she was accustomed to reporting problems only to her superiors. That, she said, might explain why she did not report what happened to police when she returned to the Seattle area.
“I never thought to call the police,” she said. “I was more worried about my job than my own personal safety.”
But over time, she said, “I knew I failed myself.”
Pina said that she pursued the lawsuit because she wanted the company to hold the pilot accountable. “It happened on an overnight with a captain who was abusing his position of authority in an opportunity with me being in a hotel right next to him,” she said.
“It needs to stop from being swept under the rug,” she said. “I don’t hate my company. I just hope they step up, and say we have zero tolerance and maybe make any future attackers think twice and not follow through.”