DENVER, Colo. — The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Colorado, and the law firm Holwell Shuster & Goldberg LLP today filed discrimination charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of four female Frontier Airlines pilots who claim that the company’s policies discriminate against women by failing to provide accommodations related to pregnancy and breast-feeding.
The pilots, who have collectively worked for Frontier for 35 years, assert that despite their dedication to their jobs, the airline’s failure to accommodate their pumping needs made it extremely difficult for them to continue breast-feeding their babies once they returned to work.
The pilots are Shannon Kiedrowski, who has worked for Frontier since 2002, Brandy Beck, who has worked there since 2003, and Erin Zielinski and Randi Freyer, who have worked there since 2013.
“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 Kiedrowski. “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.”
Frontier forces pregnant pilots to take eight to 10 weeks of unpaid leave before their due date, allows a maximum of 120 days of maternity leave (all of it unpaid), and fails to make any accommodations to enable pilots who are breast-feeding to pump breast milk when they return to work. Women who are away from their babies need to express breast milk using a breast pump on roughly the same schedule as the baby’s feeding schedule, or serious medical complications can result. But pilots’ schedules often involve long flights and trips that can last days at a time, so they need to have a designated place where they can pump both on the aircraft and at airports.
“Frontier’s policies are discriminatory at a structural level and need to be changed,” said Galen Sherwin, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “If Frontier wants to attract and retain the most qualified pilots, it’s going to have to recognize the needs of its pilots who have babies.”
The charges assert that Frontier’s policies violate state and federal laws against sex discrimination in employment because they treat pregnancy and breast-feeding 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.
“Currently, only 6 percent of commercial pilots are women. Discriminatory policies such as these across the airline industry contribute to this extremely low number,” said Hannah Sholl, counsel at Holwell Shuster & Goldberg LLP. “We hope that Frontier takes the necessary steps to ensure that these discriminatory policies are ended once and for all.”
The women each assert that they sought information, support, and accommodations from Frontier, but were met with indifference or outright hostility.
- All of the women claim that they often had to delay pumping due to their flight schedules, and that they suffered from pain and discomfort as a result.
- Three of the women suffered from mastitis, an infection of the breast tissue, as a result of Frontier’s policies and practices that did not permit them to pump on a sufficiently regular schedule.
- One of the pilots, Kiedrowski, was disciplined after a co-pilot complained that she had used a breast pump on the aircraft.
- One of them, Zielinski, had to terminate breast-feeding early after her milk supply dried up. She also claims that her supervisors inadvertently sent her an email intended for Frontier management accusing her of “baiting” them after she asked for accommodations and that her work email was abruptly cut off immediately after she received the message.
- All of the women claim that they suffered from financial harm as a result of being forced to take an unpaid leave during the end of their pregnancies, without the option to seek a temporary job reassignment that would have allowed them to earn a paycheck.
“Each of us tried to work with Frontier to find a solution, but unfortunately our efforts went nowhere,” said Beck, a first officer at Frontier since 2003. “Because of Frontier’s failure to address the needs of pilots who are breast-feeding on a policy level, each of us has been left to figure out these problems on her own.”
The charges ask the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to require Frontier to take several steps to make it easier for pregnant pilots and pilots who are breast-feeding, including that Frontier provide women the option of taking a temporary alternative assignment that would permit them to continue working during pregnancy or breast-feeding; allow more than 120 days of unpaid maternal leave to permit women to continue breast-feeding; designate places where a pilot who is breast-feeding can pump, including at airports Frontier uses; and allow pilots who are breast-feeding to pump on the aircraft when necessary.
Prior to filing these charges, the ACLU and Holwell Shuster & Goldberg LLP sent a letter to Frontier requesting that Frontier implement policy changes to adequately accommodate pregnant and breast-feeding pilots, but Frontier never responded.
Today’s complaint is at: https://www.aclu.org/cases/frontier-airlines-eeoc-complaint
For a blog by one of the pilots: https://www.aclu.org/blog/speak-freely/airline-pilots-should-not-have-choose-between-their-jobs-and-breastfeeding-their