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Flight attendant sues SkyWest Airlines over alleged drugging, rape by captain during layover

Mary Morgan, a flight attendant for SkyWest Airlines, has filed a lawsuit contending that a SkyWest captain drugged and raped her in 2016 during a layover in Canada. (Ellen M. Banner / Seattle Times)
Mary Morgan, a flight attendant for SkyWest Airlines, has filed a lawsuit contending that a SkyWest captain drugged and raped her in 2016 during a layover in Canada. (Ellen M. Banner / Seattle Times)
By Lewis Kamb Seattle Times

They had hung out a few times before, just as friends — a captain and a flight attendant, sharing camaraderie and a love of hockey.

But now, Mary E. Morgan wants nothing to do with the senior pilot — not after that hazy night in late November 2016, when Morgan claims he drugged and raped her during a layover in Edmonton, Alberta, before a return flight to Seattle.

Months after reporting the alleged sexual assault to Canadian police — and to her longtime employer, SkyWest Airlines — Morgan said she’s tired of living and working in fear.

The man she says assaulted her, Capt. Robert L. Rowe, continues to fly for the airline, she says. And Morgan contends her employer has done nothing to protect her from crossing his path again: Both employees for SkyWest remain “domiciled,” or based out of Sea-Tac International Airport, she said.

“I’m exhausted, I’m scared, I want to keep my job — I love my job,” said Morgan, 39, who has worked for SkyWest for 14 years, most recently commuting from her home in Victoria, British Columbia. “But this shouldn’t happen. I shouldn’t have to be terrified to go to work.”

On Wednesday, Morgan sued SkyWest Airlines, contending her employer is negligent for Rowe’s actions and for failing to properly address her complaints after she reported the alleged assault in late 2016.

The airline is liable, the civil suit contends, “given Captain Rowe’s position of authority on the flight and within the company.” It also claims SkyWest has unfairly retaliated against Morgan with hostility and by reprimanding her for missing work — days Morgan says she took off as a result of emotional trauma she suffered as a result of Rowe’s alleged attack.

“Captain Rowe’s grossly abusive actions epitomize the necessity and purpose of the #metoo movement,” the lawsuit states.

The Seattle Times typically does not identify victims of proven or alleged sexual assault, but Morgan agreed to be named in her suit and for this story.

Rowe, 54, of Gig Harbor, did not respond to several messages left for him Wednesday.

Marissa Snow, a spokeswoman for SkyWest Airlines — the only defendant named in Morgan’s lawsuit — said in a statement Wednesday the company doesn’t comment on specific personnel matters, but “we take all allegations very seriously.”

“The safety of all SkyWest employees is our first priority,” the statement said. “We hold all employees to the highest standards of conduct and have a zero-tolerance policy for assault or harassment in the workplace.”

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The details of Morgan’s suit are similar to those in an unrelated lawsuit filed by a co-pilot last month against Alaska Airlines. In that case, First Officer Betty Pina contends Capt. Paul Engelien drugged her drink and raped her during a stopover in Minneapolis last year.

A spokeswoman for Alaska, who last month said Engelien had been suspended from flying since June while the airline investigated, declined to comment this week about the probe’s status. In the suit’s wake, Alaska’s chief executive announced new sexual-harassment policies.

Lawyers for Engelien, who no longer works for Alaska, announced this month that he passed a lie-detector test refuting Pina’s rape claims.

No criminal charges have been filed.

“Foggy and hazy”

In her suit and during an interview, Morgan claimed Rowe assaulted her on Nov. 29, 2016, while a SkyWest flight crew was staying in an Edmonton hotel. During a day off before a return flight to Sea-Tac, Rowe and Morgan arranged to attend an Edmonton Oilers hockey game together, she said.

After the game, the two were having drinks at the arena when Morgan said she excused herself to go to the restroom.

“When I came back, I finished my drink and then we left the arena,” she said.

After that, Morgan says her memory gets fuzzy. She can recall only “snippets” of events before she remembers “waking up naked in (Rowe’s) bed.”

“He was lying next to me, and I was so confused,” she said. “I just felt dull, just kind of foggy and hazy.”

Morgan said she quietly dressed and returned to her own room and took a shower, finding bruises on her breasts and thighs and blood in her genitals.

“I knew I had been assaulted,” she said. “But at that moment, I was so confused and in shock.”

Morgan said she texted Rowe, asking him to explain how she ended up in his bed.

“Put two and two together,” she said he texted back. Once at the airport, Morgan said she tried to avoid Rowe during the return flight to Seattle.

A few days later, Morgan said she told her parents “everything that had happened,” and later called a friend — SkyWest’s chief flight attendant.

“I told him what had happened, and he said, ‘Well, I’ve never heard anyone say anything like that about Bob,’ ” Morgan said.

The chief attendant took no further action, she added.

Over the next few days, Morgan went to a doctor to be checked for sexually transmitted diseases, then reported the alleged rape to police. An officer in Sidney, British Columbia, forwarded her statement to an Edmonton police detective, who obtained additional evidence, including statements from SkyWest and a hotel clerk, Morgan said.

In an email Thursday, an Edmonton Police Services spokesman confirmed a case was forwarded to prosecutors, but “the Crown did not proceed with charges as a result of insufficient evidence.”

In December 2016, shortly after Morgan reported her allegations to police, she said she also informed SkyWest’s employee-relations office. The airline placed her on paid leave, she said, but conducted only a cursory review before summoning her back to work.

When Morgan told her employer she wasn’t ready to return, she said the airline gave her three options: take unpaid leave, transfer to a different airport or self-schedule flights to avoid Rowe.

“Which isn’t the appropriate response, obviously,” said Julie Kays, Morgan’s Seattle attorney. “We see this a lot in these types of cases, where suddenly it all falls on the victim to upend her life. Well, what’s happening to this guy who assaulted her?”

Airline officials at one point informed Morgan that Rowe would no longer be permitted to fly to Canada, so as “to avoid a scene” and his possible arrest, she said. But “they’ve taken absolutely no action,” and Rowe continues to work flights in and out of Sea-Tac, where Morgan also works, she said.

Morgan has since undergone therapy, and her work hours have diminished while she’s tried to avoid encountering Rowe.

In January, she also tried, but failed, to obtain a court order to prevent Rowe from encountering her at work — an action Morgan said she only pursued because SkyWest has repeatedly ignored her requests to properly address Rowe’s scheduling.

“I am standing up for myself,” Morgan said of her reasons for the lawsuit. “I don’t want this to happen again to anybody else.”

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