FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida — A Southwest Airlines pilot is suing the company, her union and a former colleague who pleaded guilty last year to locking the cockpit door during a flight and undressing in front of her.
Christine Janning alleges Southwest retaliated by grounding her after she reported Michael Haak to the company and the FBI, that it kept him on the job despite an alleged history of sexual misconduct, and that managers belittled her in memos.
She also alleges that the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association conspired with the airline and refused to support her. She sues Haak for sexual assault. He pleaded guilty last year to a federal misdemeanor charge of committing an obscene, indecent or lewd act and was sentenced to probation.
Haak’s attorney, Michael Salnick, said Wednesday that his client only undressed after Janning encouraged him to do so, that he never did anything else, and that he never had been no previous incident. Southwest said he supports Janning and will “defend vigorously” against the lawsuit. The union did not respond to a phone call seeking comment.
The Associated Press does not normally identify people who claim to be victims of sex crimes, but Janning, through his attorney, agreed to the use of his name.
According to the lawsuit filed last week in Orange County, Florida, Janning had 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, had used his seniority rights the day before to oust another pilot who was to command the flight. Janning thinks it’s because he saw a woman was the intended co-pilot.
Janning said when they reached cruising altitude, Haak told him it was his last flight and he wanted to do something before he retired.
She said he locked the door so no flight attendants could enter. He then put the plane on autopilot, stripped naked, started watching pornography on his laptop, and performed a lewd act for 30 minutes while taking photos and videos of himself.
Salnick said it was Janning who asked Haak if there was anything he wanted to do before retiring. When he replied that he wanted to fly naked, she told him to go ahead and then made sexual advances after stripping, Salnick said. He said Haak rejected them and categorically denied that a lewd act had occurred.
During his sentencing hearing last year, Haak called the incident a “consensual prank” that got out of control.
Janning’s attorney, Frank Podesta, denied encouraging Haak or making advances.
Janning said in the lawsuit she was “horrified” but continued to fly the plane while taking photos “to create a record”. The plane landed safely.
And it wasn’t Haak’s last flight – he flew for three more weeks.
Meanwhile, Janning did not report the incident to a Southwest employee relations investigator until three months later. She said she waited because her boss had talked her down to a male colleague before. She said she asked the investigator not to tell her boss, but she did.
Janning says he was soon told that because Haak had retired, the airline’s investigation was closed. Janning then turned himself in to the FBI, who charged Haak. She alleges that 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 is necessary to obtain a financial windfall. I feel sorry for her,” Salnick said.
Janning said that in retaliation for the FBI report, she was punished for over three months, which cost her part of her salary. She then had to undergo “unnecessary” flight simulator training before she could work again.
She also said the day she was grounded, the airline stranded her in Denver and the FBI had to book her a United Airlines flight so she could fly 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) in cooperating with the appropriate outside agencies while they investigated.”
“Our corporate culture is based on treating others with mutual respect and dignity, and the alleged events in this situation are inconsistent with the behavior we expect of our employees,” the statement said.
Janning said that when she contacted the union, its leaders did nothing to help but wrote a letter to Haak’s judge during his misdemeanor case saying he had a “spotless” record.
No hearing has been scheduled.