When The Insider Threat Is A Coworker
Lead Editorial

When The Insider Threat Is A Coworker

Caution: this piece contains descriptions of acts of a highly sensitive nature including sexual assault and sexual harassment, that may be triggering for some individuals.

Our guest column this issue is by David Bruce and looks at insider threats. Common examples of insider threats include the malicious insider. This is an employee or insider who intentionally takes actions to harm an organization, such as stealing sensitive data, damaging systems or distributing malware. Another example is the negligent insider. This is an employee who, often unintentionally, causes security incidents or data breaches through careless actions like clicking on phishing emails or mishandling sensitive information. And lastly, there is the third-party insider. This could be contractors, vendors or business partners with access to an organization’s resources who misuse that access for malicious purposes.

Bruce gives some examples of how the insider threat has manifested itself in aviation and more importantly he gives some great tips on mitigating those threats. You can check out David Bruce’s column starting on page 40.

But, for some, those tips won’t be enough. What happens when the threat is between coworkers? Here’s what a suit filed recently says happened to a first officer locked in a cockpit with a deranged captain.

Christine Janning showed up for work in August of 2020 just as she would any other day. But that day the captain of the flight, Michael Haak, locked her in the cockpit with him and stripped naked. She alleges that he then turned on a laptop, put on some pornography and masturbated in front of her for more than 30 minutes until he ejaculated. According to a story in the Fort Worth Star Telegram, “Haak pleaded guilty in May 2021 to intentionally committing a lewd, indecent or obscene act in a public place, which is a misdemeanor … Haak’s attorney, said the pilot took his clothes off as part of a ‘consensual prank’ with the co-pilot. Haak was sentenced to one year of probation by U.S. Magistrate Judge J. Mark Coulson in Maryland. The pilots’ union did not immediately respond to requests to comment.”

First officer Janning has followed up by filing suit against Southwest Airlines, the Southwest Airlines Pilot Association (SWAPA) and the former pilot, Michael Haak. The suit gives details of Haak’s actions, implicates the airline’s administration and the pilots’ union in alleged cover-ups of his misconduct, as well as stating that Southwest retaliated against Janning for reporting Haak.

Janning’s lawsuit filing states that she had never met Haak before August 2020, which is common among airline pilots as they are paired monthly or even per trip and there are thousands of pilots at each airline. On the flight day in question, she was the first officer on a flight from Philadelphia to Orlando. The filing says Haak, who had been with Southwest for 27 years, had used his seniority the previous day to bump another pilot who had been scheduled to head the flight. Janning says she believes he did that because he saw a woman was the scheduled co-pilot. The filing says that when they reached cruising altitude, Haak told her this was his final flight and there was something he wanted to do before retirement and the events detailed above ensued.

What happened after Janning filed her FBI report was retaliation, she claims. She reports being grounded for more than three months, which impacted her earnings. She was required to take additional flight training before she could work again due to falling out of the recency of experience requirements, having been sidelined for so long. The suit says on the day she was grounded, the airline left her stranded in Denver and the FBI had to book her a United Airlines flight home to Florida. The filing goes on to say a manager at the airline sent a memo to more than 25 employees “that made baseless allegations” about her flying competency, damaging her reputation.

Southwest denies Janning’s allegations, saying in a statement, “We immediately supported (Janning) by cooperating with the appropriate outside agencies as they investigated. Our corporate culture is built upon treating others with mutual respect and dignity, and the events alleged in this situation are inconsistent with the behavior that we require of our employees.”

Research into Haak’s background shows 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. The suit says Southwest pilots accused of sexual misconduct would be sent to “treatment” in Montreal as “a slap on the wrist.” The suit says that office was known 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.”

While seemingly outrageous, this type of behavior is not unheard of, and it won’t be the last time it happens. Airlines need to step up to support employee victims in these situations. It seems that the airline took the Catholic Church approach in handling this occurrence by sweeping it under the rug, victim blaming and protecting their facade.