Southwest knew of prior misconduct by pilot before he exposed himself on flight, suit says

Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Southwest Airlines covered up previous assault allegations against a pilot who locked his co-pilot in the cockpit with him and masturbated in front of her, according to a lawsuit filed by the co-pilot.

Christine Janning, who lives in Florida, filed the suit in September against Dallas-based Southwest Airlines, the Southwest Airlines pilots’ union and former Southwest pilot Michael Haak. The suit details Haak’s sexual misconduct, which he was sentenced for in 2021. However, the suit also implicates Southwest administration and the pilots’ union in alleged cover-ups of Haak’s misconduct and accuses Southwest of retaliating against Janning for reporting Haak.

Haak pleaded guilty in May 2021 to intentionally committing a lewd, indecent or obscene act in a public place, which is a misdemeanor. According to court documents, Haak and Janning were on a flight together in August 2020 when he locked her in the cockpit with him and stripped. He then turned pornography on a laptop and masturbated in front of her for over 30 minutes until he ejaculated.

Michael Salnick, Haak’s attorney, said Haak took his clothes off as part of a “consensual prank” with the co-pilot. A Southwest representative told the AP that it supported Janning and will “vigorously defend” itself against the suit.

Haak was sentenced to one year of probation by U.S. Magistrate Judge J. Mark Coulson in Maryland.v

The pilots’ union did not immediately respond to requests to comment.

A representative with Southwest said the airline “takes all matters related to workplace conduct very seriously, with a well-defined policy and process for harassment, sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation claims.”

The airline said it supported Janning and cooperated with outside agencies in the investigation. Janning’s lawsuit disputes those statements.

“Our corporate Culture is built upon treating others with mutual respect and dignity, and we plan to vigorously defend against allegations made in this recent complaint,” the airline’s statement said.

History of assault

According to the lawsuit, which was filed in the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court for Orange County in Florida, Haak had been a pilot with Southwest since 1994 and had a history of misconduct accusations. He was accused of forcing his way into a Southwest flight attendant’s hotel room in 2008 and sexually assaulting her, the suit says. He was accused of other sexual assaults and sexual harassment, such as exposing himself to flight attendants and other pilots in a hotel following a flight and disseminating nude photographs of his wife to flight attendants.

At the time of those accusations, the suit says, Southwest pilots accused of sexual misconduct would be sent to an office in Montreal under Richardson Management Associates, Ltd. as “a slap on the wrist.” Throughout the company, the suit says, the office was known colloquially as “the Charm School,” where “pilots caught in disreputable acts” would be sent “in an effort to avoid meaningful discipline and to keep their indiscretions out of the public eye.”

Despite the repeated complaints against Haak, the suit says, Southwest “did absolutely nothing” besides “sending him on vacation to Montreal.”

Retaliation allegations

After Haak trapped Janning in the cockpit and masturbated in front of her, Janning made a formal complaint to a Southwest senior employee relations investigator on Nov. 6, 2020, according to the suit. The investigator told Janning that no internal investigation would happen because Haak had retired, the suit says.

Janning went to the FBI on Dec. 2, 2020. In retaliation, the suit says, Southwest published the events of what happened and “negative information” about Janning to at least 25 employees at Southwest. Southwest also issued her a “letter of warning,” according to the suit, “apparently for the sin of being subjected to Cpt. Haak’s perversions and having the audacity to complain about it.”

Southwest also removed Janning from flight status, meaning she could not fly and was grounded. Because she was grounded, she received less pay. From December 2020 through June 2021, the suit says, Janning had an accrued pay loss of nearly $30,000.

In December 2020, Janning told the attorney for the Southwest pilots’ union about Haak’s sexual misconduct and the FBI investigation. According to the suit, the union did nothing and would not advocate for Janning.

Instead, the suit says, when Haak faced criminal charges, a vice president of the union — Mike Santoro —wrote to the judge overseeing Haak’s case and said Haak enjoyed a “spotless employment and training record” and that he “did not have any employment related issues nor complaints for which he would have required union representation.”

According to the suit, this was a lie. The union concealed reports of at least three women who were victims of Haak’s sexual misconduct, the suit says — victims whom union representatives themselves had interviewed during union investigations.

Discrimination allegation

Southwest also refused to comply with the FBI investigation into Haak, the suit says. When the FBI sent summons and requests for statements from Southwest, the suit says, Southwest issued an internal memorandum to its employees instructing them not to cooperate with the FBI.

“When the FBI advised Southwest that it was committing the crime of obstruction of a Federal Investigation,” the suit says, “Southwest recanted its unlawful stance.”

Throughout 2021, Southwest continued to harass and retaliate against Janning, the suit says. When she informed an assistant chief pilot that she may have been exposed to COVID-19 through her son, she was immediately removed from duty for 20 days and locked out of flight selection boards. However, on the same day, her ex-husband — who is also a pilot for Southwest — reported to the same person that he also was exposed to COVID through their son. He was not removed from duty or locked out of the flight selection boards.

As a result, Janning lost 22 days of her schedule and some of her sick bank, which caused her to lose $2,500 in sick bank value, the suit says.

On April 2, 2021, Janning filed a charge of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. On Nov. 2, 2021, the EEOC dismissed the EEOC charges and issued Ms. Janning a “right to sue” notice.

According to the suit, only 3.6% of Southwest pilots are women. The suit alleges Janning was turned into a pariah because “for the mortal sin of being the woman Cpt. Haak chose to sexually assault (this time).”