Frontier Airlines Is Discriminating Against Pregnant And Breastfeeding Pilots, According To ACLU Claims

Four female Frontier Airlines pilots claim the company’s policies make it nearly impossible to have children. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of Colorado, and the law firm Holwell Shuster & Goldberg LLP filed charges on behalf of the four pilots Tuesday alleging that Frontier Airlines discriminates against pregnanct and breastfeeding employees. “We love our jobs as pilots for Frontier Airlines and we shouldn’t have to choose between our jobs and breast-feeding our children,” said Shannon Kiedrowski, one of the pilots involved, in the ACLU’s press release. “But because of the lack of accommodations for pregnancy and breast-feeding, that is exactly the position each of us has been put in. We’re bringing this complaint because no woman should have to go through what we went through.”

The charges were filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), so it isn’t technically a lawsuit yet. Essentially, the ACLU and Holwell Shuster & Goldberg LLP told the federal government they think Frontier’s policies violate state and federal laws against sex discrimination in employment by treating pregnancy and breastfeeding less favorably than other medical conditions, which obviously has a disproportionate effect on women. If the EEOC comes to the same conclusion, it will likely force Frontier to make its policies more mother-friendly. 

In a statement sent to The Frisky, Frontier Airlines’ spokesperson Jim Faulkner said:

“Our policies and practices comply with all federal and state laws as well as with the relevant provisions of the collective bargaining agreement between Frontier and its pilots group.  While there are many work places that might allow for nursing mothers to express breast milk during a break from work activities, the duties of a commercial airline pilot present unique circumstances. We have made good-faith efforts to identify and provide rooms and other secure locations for use by breast-feeding pilots during their duty travel.”

The four pilots claim they had to delay pumping because of their flight schedule (causing three to develop mastitis, an infection of the breast tissue) and suffered financially after being forced to take unpaid time off before giving birth. Kiedrowski says she was disciplined for using a breast pump on the aircraft. Another Frontier pilot, Erin Zielinski, alleges that her breast milk dried up early because of the company’s policies and that her supervisors accidentally sent her an e-mail intended for Frontier management accusing her of “baiting” them after she asked for better accommodations for her situation.

The women claim they tried to work with Frontier to find solutions, but they said their efforts went nowhere.

Hannah Sholl, counsel at Holwell Shuster & Goldberg LLP, said in the press release about the charges:

“Currently, only 6 percent of commercial pilots are women. Discriminatory policies such as these across the airline industry contribute to this extremely low number. We hope that Frontier takes the necessary steps to ensure that these discriminatory policies are ended once and for all.”

The ACLU wants the EEOC to force Frontier to offer pregnant employees an alternate assignment toward the end of their pregnancy rather than requiring they take unpaid leave (right before taking more unpaid leave after giving birth), allow more than the current maximum of 120 unpaid days of maternity leave so women can breastfeed for longer, designate areas where women can pump breast milk at airports, and allow them to pump on planes when needed.

UPGRADES TO DIA

Of course, female pilots also deserve paid maternity leave, but that’s a much larger step for a company to take than simply lengthening the number of days new mothers can take off without pay. The ACLU is being more practical in its demands, in the hopes that these pretty minimal changes will actually happen.