Melissa Hodgkins, a flight attendant at Frontier Airlines, was forced to stop working at around 34 weeks with each of her two pregnancies, burning through much of her unpaid leave before her babies were even born.
The group filed two federal lawsuits against Frontier Tuesday, saying the company forced pregnant women to stop working long before their due dates, without providing paid leave or alternate work arrangements. The moms also say Frontier failed to provide time and space for breastfeeding moms to pump and prohibited pilots from pumping during flights. They argue the airline violated the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act and Colorado state laws protecting the rights of pregnant and nursing women.
“Frontier forced all pregnant pilots onto unpaid leave at 32 weeks of pregnancy, regardless of their medical fitness or certification to fly,” the suit alleges, noting that the policy runs contrary to FAA rules, which state that medical certification to continue flying while pregnant should be determined on a case by case basis. (Frontier recently changed its policy to allow up to six months of unpaid leave for women who give birth.)
The documents also state that Frontier ignored or denied requests for accommodations, such as a temporary desk job, even though the company provides temporary ground assignments for non-pregnant pilots with similar restrictions.
“Federal law requires employers to treat pregnant workers the same way they treat other workers who are ‘similar in their ability or inability to work,’” Gillian Thomas, senior staff attorney of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Women’s Rights Project, told Working Mother in July. Thomas’ colleague at the ACLU, Galen Sherwin, is representing the pilots and flight attendants.
Shannon Kiedrowski, a pilot, told NPR that she was taken to task by the company’s HR in 2013 when word got out that she was breastfeeding her child.
“They questioned why I was pumping, why I felt the need to breastfeed my child, implying that, ‘You’re a pilot. And really, there’s no place for you if you need to pump at work,'” she said, pointing out that pumping is similar to when pilots take a bathroom break. “It’s not as though we’re going to be pumping during takeoff and landing.”
A Frontier spokeswoman told NPR the airline denies the allegations in the lawsuits and “has strong policies in place in support of pregnant and lactating mothers and remains committed to treating all of its team members equally and fairly.”
The lawsuits are just one more example of a pattern Working Mother recently reported: More parents than ever are suing their employers for discrimination. (They’re also more likely to win.) The number of “family responsibilities discrimination” cases, which encompasses pregnancy and breastfeeding discrimination, rose 269 percent between 2006 and 2015, according to a report by the Center for WorkLife Law, a research and advocacy organization at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law.
Sherwin of the ACLU told NPR that failing to account for pregnancy and breastfeeding “stacks the deck” against working moms.
“Those employees will never be able to succeed equally—at Frontier or in any industry—with the same success as those who don’t get pregnant,” she continued. “Unless companies take their heads out of the sand and realize that women get pregnant, it’s a part of women’s lives, and we need to account for it.”