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Breastfeeding pilots file discrimination charges

Lean Into Aviation (3)Four women pilots at Denver-based ultra-low-cost carrier Frontier Airlines on 10 May filed discrimination charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, claiming the carrier failed to provide accommodations related to pregnancy and breastfeeding.

The pilots claim that despite their dedication to their jobs, the airline’s failure to accommodate their pumping needs made it extremely difficult for them to continue breastfeeding their babies once they returned to work.

The pilots are Shannon Kiedrowski, who has worked for Frontier since 2002, Brandy Beck, who has worked at the airline since 2003, and Erin Zielinski and Randi Freyer, who have worked there since 2013.

An ACLU Action petition already has over 13,000 of the 15,000 signatures requested urging Frontier to provide accommodations for female Frontier pilots related to pregnancy, parental leave, and breastfeeding.

When this author’s daughter was born in November 2006 while I was working in Delta Air Lines’ corporate communications department, I didn’t realize how lucky I was at the time. Delta offered breastfeeding mothers access to a private nursing room that included a comfortable chair, soft lighting, a hospital-grade pumping machine and a refrigerator to store breast milk. You needed a code from HR to get into the room, so folks couldn’t just wander in. We also received six weeks of paid maternity leave.

My next job, at McGraw-Hill’s Aviation Week, had supportive policies for working mothers, including paid emergency back-up childcare and flexible work schedules. But in the Washington DC office, there was no dedicated space for nursing mothers. You either had to pump in the bathroom or in an empty office with a window that faced cubicles, where we taped up a sheet that had to be taken down when we were done.

The Kidskintha blog has highlighted 58 global companies with parent-friendly policies including: consulting firm Accenture, which offers hospital-grade equipment for lactating mothers and breast milk shipping services for new mothers on business travel; data company SAS, which offers mothers private nursing rooms, lactation consultants and a breastfeeding support network; and Ikea, which offers private nursing rooms.

But according to the ACLU, Frontier’s policies require pregnant pilots to take eight to 10 weeks of unpaid leave before their due date and only allows a maximum of 120 days of unpaid maternity leave. ACLU also claims the airline fails to make any accommodations to enable pilots who are breastfeeding to pump breast milk when they return to work.

For its part, the airline is reported by NPR as saying it already provides places that comply with federal and Colorado state requirements in all airports it uses, and that women can contact the station manager of each airport to find the location.

I know from personal experience that it can be painful if you don’t pump your breast milk on schedule. Because I worked in an office, I had the flexibility to pump on schedule as needed in a safe, clean place. But these breastfeeding Frontier pilots say they don’t have that luxury because of the work that they do.

The charges filed by the ACLU state that Frontier’s policies violate state and federal laws against sex discrimination in employment because they treat pregnancy and breastfeeding less favorably than other medical conditions or disabilities and have a disproportionate effect on women. They also allege violations of the Colorado Workplace Accommodations for Nursing Mothers Act.

The pilots’ requests are as follows:

  • Require Frontier to make things easier for pregnant pilots and pilots who are breastfeeding, including an option of taking a temporary alternative assignment that would permit them to continue working during pregnancy or breastfeeding;
  • Allow more than 120 days of unpaid maternity leave to permit women to continue breastfeeding;
  • Designate places where a pilot who is breastfeeding can pump, including at airports Frontier uses; and
  • Allow pilots who are breastfeeding to pump on the aircraft when necessary.

The women filed with the ACLU because they say Frontier Airlines didn’t respond to their lawyer’s letter asking the carrier to implement policies for pregnant and breastfeeding pilots. The US Department of Health and Human Services has help for any company that wants to create breastfeeding-friendly policies for working mothers via this free guide. Frontier could not be immediately reached for direct comment.

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