The pilot claims the co-pilot made up the rape allegation to avoid being fired.
A former Alaska Airlines pilot who was fired earlier this year after a co-pilot alleged he drugged and raped her during a layover in Minnesota in 2017 sued the airline and his accuser this week, contending he was wrongly terminated amid “false #MeToo claims.”
Paul Engelien, a 22-year pilot for Alaska, claims in the lawsuit that after First Officer Betty Pina accused him of rape in her own suit and during a blitz of media interviews in March, the airline’s human resources consultant conducted a “negligent, flawed and pretextual (internal) investigation” that wrongly concluded Engelien had lied and broken a company rule barring pilots from flying within 10 hours of drinking alcohol. Engelien’s termination, combined with Pina’s false claims, have since caused him “irreparable and extensive injuries and damages,” the suit states.
“Pina’s false claims defamed Engelien, invaded his privacy, decimated his life and career, and caused him severe distress,” it says.
The lawsuit also alleges Pina, then a probationary employee, only made up the rape claims to avoid being fired. The suit also contends Pina later was involved in a similar incident during a layover in May, during which she allegedly drank too much, blacked out, then later blamed others.
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Pina, 40, whose lawsuit against Alaska was settled out of court in September, could not be reached for comment on Friday. Her lawyers, Lincoln Beauregard and Eric Makus, have said they cannot comment on her settlement.
She stopped working for Alaska Airlines in July and now flies for another airline based in Hawaii, according to her LinkedIn account.
Bobbie Egan, a spokeswoman for Alaska Airlines, said in an email Friday the company doesn’t comment on personnel matters, but noted “Ms. Pina and Alaska Airlines have resolved our differences.” Marcella Reed, principal of the airline’s HR consultant, the MFR Law Group, which is also a named defendant in Engelien’s lawsuit, did not respond to a message Friday.
Engelien, 51, of Nevada, and his legal team also declined requests to be interviewed this week. One of his lawyers, Sheri Pewitt, said in an email that professional conduct rules prohibit attorneys from commenting on pending litigation.
“I am very much in support of the #metoo movement,” Pewitt’s email added. “That said, premature judgments without proper investigation can lead to accusations like Pina’s that could potentially destroy a career and harm innocent people.”
Engelien’s lawsuit stems from a June 5, 2017, layover in Minneapolis before he and Pina were scheduled to work a return flight to Seattle the next morning. During the layover, Engelien contends Pina met him in their hotel’s lounge at about 5:40 p.m. Because their flight was set for 6:23 a.m., the Alaska pilots were required to stop drinking at 8:23 p.m. according to the company’s 10-hour rule. Engelien contends they stopped drinking and left the lounge at about 8 p.m. — “about 23 minutes prior to the 10-hour cut-off time,” according to his suit.
After that, the lawsuit asserts Engelien “does not have a clear recollection of entering his room or anything else until he was awoken from a deep sleep by his cell phone ringing” at 10:47 p.m.
Engelien contends he missed that call, but found Pina asleep on the other bed in his room. A short time later, the room’s landline rang and Engelien answered a call from a flight operations officer who asked him how long ago he’d stopped drinking. The captain claims he mistakenly responded he’d stopped about an hour earlier after looking at his cell phone and seeing it said 9 p.m. But Engelien claims the clock on his phone was two hours behind the actual local time of 11 p.m., because it was still set to Pacific Time.
Believing Engelien had violated policy, the flight officer ordered him removed from the flight, with Engelien and Pina sent back to Seattle as passengers the next day, the suit states.
The suit contends Pina didn’t raise “questions” about sexual assault until three weeks later, during a private meeting with an Alaska executive. Only afterward did Alaska’s investigation shift “from both pilots’ alcohol use to solely a #MeToo investigation directed against Engelien,” the suit says.
The Seattle Times generally does not name victims of alleged sexual assault, but Pina previously agreed to be identified.
Pina returned to flight duty, but Engelien was kept on leave. In July, Alaska hired the MFR Group to conduct an internal probe. A few months later, the airline “represented to Engelien” he would receive a “second-chance letter” and not be fired if he agreed to participate in an alcohol-treatment program for pilots, the suit says.
Engelien agreed and successfully completed the program, the suit says. But after Pina sued Alaska and gave several media interviews accusing Engelien, the suit indicates the airline reneged on the deal.
In the wake of the media coverage, Engelien was devastated, his family traumatized and he’s been denied job opportunities, according to the suit. Engelien tried to mitigate the damage by taking and passing a polygraph, but his suit contends the “media was not interested in covering Engelien’s side of the story.”
Alaska eventually fired Engelien after the MFR Group concluded he likely lied about his phone’s time discrepancies and violated the airline’s 10-hour rule. The same investigation also found “insufficient evidence” that Engelien had raped and drugged Pina,” but his suit contends the consultant’s findings justifying his firing were “designed to reach a desired result for Alaska, regardless of compelling evidence to the contrary.”
The same day Alaska finalized his firing, Engelien’s suit alleges, Pina blacked out after drinking for hours during a layover in Hawaii, forcing the airline to cancel her assigned flight and send its crew back to Seattle. Afterward, Pina “again tried to deflect accountability by casting blame on others while waving the #MeToo banner,” the suit states.