Earlier this week, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Colorado filed discrimination charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of four pilots for Frontier Airlines. The charges allege that four pilots, Randi Freyer, Brandy Beck, Shannon Kiedrowski and Erin Zielinski, were discriminated against because they were not provided legally required accommodations for breastfeeding and pregnant employees.
Freyer told NPR that the airline does not provide adequate and private spaces for pumping breast milk, which is a federal requirement under the Affordable Care Act. Freyer said that, when she arrives at a new airport, pumping rooms are often hard to find or a half-mile walk from the Frontier gates. In one case, the pumping room was being used for storage. She said that, because of the company’s policies, she’s often forced to pump in an airport or in the airline bathrooms.
According to ACLU attorney, Galen Sherwin, the lawsuit was a “last resort,” after multiple attempts to work with the airline failed.
“According to Sherwin, the ACLU and the law firm sent Frontier management a letter describing the women’s difficulties and several possible solutions, including temporary non-flying assignments that would allow easier accommodations, extension of maternity leave if the women wanted it and designated places where the women could pump in airports Frontier uses and on the plane when necessary.”
Frontier Airlines said that it already complies with federal law in all of the airports it works from. The airline told NPR that women in need of accommodation can contact the station manager at each airport to find out where nursing rooms are located. But the ACLU says that policy falls short of the requirements. Sherwin said:
“If they do [have those stations], they have not communicated that to the women I’ve spoken with, including women beyond these four pilots, despite repeated requests. If it’s up to the individual woman to contact each individual airport on her own, that would not be a sufficient accommodation. It’s tantamount to providing no support to the women.”
In addition, the four pilots claim that Frontier was unwilling to work with them to change their flying schedules. While the company says that it reduced flying time after it was requested, the women say that the time in the air isn’t necessarily the issue. Rather, the total length of the flights—including connections—is what makes things difficult. Freyer said that while she tries to plan her flights carefully, she’s been forced to pump mid-flight.
NPR suggests that paid family leave might be the ideal solution (shocking!) to the challenges nursing pilots face. Pilots, they note, are already required to take unpaid maternity leave eight weeks before their due date. Obviously, two months without a paycheck can place financial strain on any family. Frontier, like most airlines, doesn’t offer additional paid leave beyond the federal requirements. (Pilots are, however, allowed to take an additional four months, also unpaid, after the birth.)
The women aren’t requesting a financial settlement in the suit. Rather, they’re asking Frontier to change its policies. “It’s 2016,” Sherwin said. “It shouldn’t be that women have to choose between their jobs and breastfeeding their babies, and that’s why our clients are bringing the case.”
Image via AP.