Breast-Feeding Pilots Charge Frontier Airlines With Bias

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By Patrick Dorrian

May 11 —Frontier Airlines fails to accommodate the needs of pregnant and breast-feeding pilots, including by not treating breast-feeding as an eligible medical condition under its unpaid medical leave policy, according to charges filed with the EEOC.

Four separate charges were filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by female pilots based out of Denver International Airport on behalf of themselves and similarly situated women.

They allege that Frontier doesn't provide sufficient break time or a space—other than a restroom—within close distance to new mothers' work areas where they can express breast milk in private.

In addition, the airline requires pilots to take maternity leave following the 32nd week of pregnancy, or sooner when medically necessary, and it denies female pilots the option to seek temporary reassignment during pregnancy even though temporary reassignments may be sought for other medical conditions.

The charges should put employers on further notice that multiple federal, state and local laws cover pregnant workers' and nursing mothers' workplace rights, and that companies risk administrative charges and possible litigation for failing to comply with those laws.

For example, in a lawsuit brought by the EEOC, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in 2013 rejected the notion that lactation isn't a “related medical condition of pregnancy” for purposes of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act amendments to Title VII (105 DLR A-1, 5/31/13)().

Charges Seek Specific Relief

The four women who filed the charges are Randi Freyer, Erin Zielinski, Shannon Kiedrowski and Brandy Beck. They allege the airline's actions and policies violate Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Colorado Fair Employment Practices Act and Colorado’s Workplace Accommodation for Nursing Mothers Act.

Freyer, Zielinski, Kiedrowski and Beck collectively have 35 years of experience with Frontier, according to a May 10 statement issued by the American Civil Liberties Union, which helped the women file the charges.

In addition to a finding that Frontier’s policies and practices violate Title VII and the other laws mentioned in their charges, the women ask the EEOC to require the airline to implement measures to make it easier for pregnant and breast-feeding pilots, including allowing them to seek temporary alternative assignments that would permit them to continue working during pregnancy or while breast-feeding.

The EEOC also should require Frontier to permit new mothers to take more than 120 days of unpaid maternal leave to continue breast-feeding, and to grant sufficient break time and designate private locations for pilots who are breast-feeding to pump breast milk, including on an aircraft when necessary, the women say.

Further, the airline should be required to change its existing policy so that female employees whose need to express breast milk prevents them from working for continuous periods without regular breaks are eligible for unpaid medical leave.

The ACLU of Colorado and Holwell Shuster & Goldberg LLP also represent the women.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Dorrian in Washington at pdorrian@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at smcgolrick@bna.com

For More Information

Text of Freyer's charge is available at http://src.bna.com/eSz, Zielinski's at http://src.bna.com/eSC, Kiedrowski's at http://src.bna.com/eSB and Beck's at http://src.bna.com/eSA.