Woman pilot tells of devastated career

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The Independent Online
An airline pilot who claims she was persistently sexually harassed by her male colleagues and sacked because she was a woman yesterday recounted the devastating effect her dismissal has had on her career.

On the fourth day of giving evidence at the Birmingham industrial tribunal, Sandra Valentine, 36, said that since her sacking in December 1993 by the Manchester-based holiday company, Airtours International, she had applied for more than 50 jobs, but hadfailed in her search because firms appeared to know about her case and judged that she was "trouble".

The chances of her finding another job as a pilot now seemed increasingly slim, she said.

Miss Valentine, of Knowle, Warwickshire, is suing Airtours for unfair dismissal through sexual discrimination and sexual harassment by a colleague. She said during the 17 months she worked for Airtours, the only woman among the firm's 178 pilots, she wa s subjected to systematic sexual harassment which made her life a "living nightmare".

On one occasion she was anonymously sent a sex aid catalogue; another time, on a flight to Portugal in 1993, she said the captain, Steve George, repeatedly touched her thigh; and during another flight in November that year, she told how Captain Jonathan Porter humiliated her. "I said it was all about team work," she said. "He said that there was no team work on his aircraft, it was only two of us and one did not count."

When Miss Valentine persisted, he said: "Shut up, I'm the captain and I will do as I please, you bloody stupid woman. He then ordered me to keep quiet and make him a cup of coffee ... something male pilots would never have been asked to do."

It was a flight later that month with Captain Porter - who was being assessed during one of his twice-yearly flight checks, or line checks - which ultimately led to Miss Valentine's dismissal. Airtours claims it was because she was incompetent.

She said that the descent into Birmingham by Captain Porter, watched by the training officer, Captain Jeff Williams, was a shambles, a difficulty which was later blamed on her at the disciplinary hearing. She was told by one of the panel that her line check was the worst he had ever seen. She was dismissed, only to get a call at her home a few days later from Captain Porter. "He said he was sorry and that he had never intended it to go that far," Miss Valentine said.

Miss Valentine appealed against her dismissal, but it was rejected. "I do not believe any man would have been treated as I was," she said. "Male pilots are given further training and second chances when they fail line checks, but I failed once and they dismissed me."

The case continues today.

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