In 2019, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Colorado, Holwell Shuster & Goldberg LLP, and Towards Justice filed a lawsuit against Frontier Airlines for systematically denying its employees basic accommodations for pregnancy and breastfeeding.
The lawsuit challenged a host of policies that harm pregnant or breastfeeding pilots. Frontier penalized employees for absences during their pregnancies, and forced those employees onto unpaid leave at the end of their pregnancies with no alternatives. Employees with other medical conditions that render them temporarily unable to fly were given the option of working in temporary ground positions, but this option was not made available for pregnant employees.
Frontier also refused to provide accommodations relating to breastfeeding, and even banned employees from pumping while on duty. As a result, the plaintiffs lost income and other benefits from being forced onto unpaid leave. Several who returned to work and attempted to continue breastfeeding without accommodations suffered from pain, leaking and swollen breasts, infection, and other serious health issues, while others felt they had no choice but to give up breastfeeding altogether.
“As a result of Frontier’s head-in-the-sand approach to pregnancy, our clients have been forced to choose between a profession they love and their ability to give birth and care for themselves and their newborns,” said Sara Neel, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Colorado. “More than 40 years since workplace pregnancy discrimination was first outlawed, it is senseless, outdated, and frankly outrageous that we are still litigating such basic workplace protections for pregnant workers.”
This case was the first of its kind alleging systemic failure to accommodate pregnancy and breastfeeding in the airline industry. The lawsuit sought commonsense changes to Frontier’s policies, including the adoption of policies that would make ground positions available during pregnancy or breastfeeding, permit schedule modifications for breastfeeding employees, and provide employees reasonable breaks and designate private and sanitary locations to pump while on duty.
On December 4, 2023, the parties announced a settlement in which Frontier Airlies agreed to several policy changes that will better address the needs of pregnant and lactating pilots. Marking a critical step forward for gender equity in the airline industry, Frontier Airlines will be one of the first airlines to permit pilots to pump breastmilk in the cockpit during noncritical phases of the flight, enabling lactating pilots to continue working while maintaining the highest safety standards.
This settlement should serve as a strong message to employers – especially airline employers – that reasonable accommodations such as those agreed to by Frontier are good for workers, good for families, good for business, and required by the law. Hopefully, this will inspire more change and stronger protections for workers across the airline industry.
ACLU PRESS RELEASES:
"Frontier Reaches Deal to End Pilot's Pregnancy Bias Suit", Law 360 Employment Authority, December 4, 2023
"Froniter Airlines Lands Settlement with Pilots Grounded During Pregnancy, Barred From Pumping Breast Milk", Courthouse News Service, December 4, 2023
"Frontier Airlines Settles Pregnancy, Breastfeesing Discrimination Lawsuit with Colorado Pilots", The Denver Post, December 4, 2023
"Frontier Airlines Settles Lawsuit Filed by Pilots Who Claimed Bias Over Pregnancy, Breastfeeding", CPR News, December 5, 2023
"Pilots Settle Lawsuit Against Frontier Airlines Alleging Discrimination Against Pregnant, Lactating Workers", 9 News, December 5, 2023
"Frontier Airlines Settles Lawsuit with Colorado Pilots Over Alleged Pregnancy, Breastfeeding Discrimination", The Colorado Sun, December 5, 2023
"5 Frontier Pilots Reach Settlement Over Pregnancy Policies", The Denver Gazette, December 5, 2023