What's at Stake
Justin Wetherell is a nonbinary flight attendant and flight attendant instructor at Alaska Airlines. As a flight attendant, they have been required to comply with Alaska Airlines’ uniform and grooming policies that are grounded in outdated sex stereotypes and conflict with Justin’s nonbinary gender identity and fluid gender expression. Now Justin and the Washington State Human Rights Commission are fighting to ensure that Alaska Airlines’ uniform and grooming policy complies with the Washington State Law Against Discrimination and permits all employees to dress and groom in a professional manner that is consistent with their gender identity and expression.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington (ACLU-WA) represent Justin Wetherell, a flight-attendant and flight-attendant instructor based in Seattle. Justin’s gender identity is nonbinary and Justin’s gender expression is fluid. When Justin attends work as a flight-attendant instructor and is not subject to Alaska Airlines’ in-flight uniform policy, Justin dresses for work in appropriate business attire while dressing and grooming in a manner that is neither typically male nor female. But when Justin attends work for shifts as a flight attendant, Alaska Airlines requires Justin to adhere to an inflexible uniform policy that forces employees to conform to rigid gender stereotypes.
As Justin describes it: “When I work as a flight attendant, I am forced into one of two standards, often for up to four days at a time. I am willing to follow all of the elements of the uniform policy for professional attire, as I do when I work as an instructor, but I don’t want to be forced into a binary uniform that excludes me and leads to me being misgendered at work.”
In June 2021, the ACLU and the ACLU-WA sent a letter to Alaska Airlines alleging that the airline’s uniform policy violates Washington state law, which explicitly prohibits discrimination based on gender identity, appearance, behavior, or expression and violates state and federal prohibitions against sex discrimination.
In September 2022, the Washington State Human Rights Commission (Commission) concluded its nearly two-year investigation into Justin’s allegations and issued a reasonable cause finding of discrimination against Alaska Airlines over the airline’s policy that requires flight attendants to conform to a rigid set of gendered dress and grooming standards. The Commission found that the airline’s dress code forced Justin “to try fitting into a binary uniform system despite identifying as neither male nor female and making multiple requests for exceptions to the uniform policy that would have allowed them to dress and groom according to their gender identity.”
In December 2022, the Commission, represented by the Washington State Office of the Attorney General, filed a complaint before the Washington Office of Administrative Proceedings, challenging Alaska Airlines’ uniform and grooming policies for violating the Washington Law Against Discrimination. Justin, represented by the ACLU and ACLU-WA, has also appeared as a party in the litigation and continues to fight for their right to work in a uniform that is professional and consistent with their gender identity and gender expression.
In May 2023, the ACLU, the ACLU of Washington, and the Washington State Attorney General’s Office secured a groundbreaking consent decree against Alaska Airlines, requiring Alaska Airlines to remove all gendered restrictions from its uniform policy for flight attendants and to require additional training on gender identity and gender expression. This consent decree favorably resolved the administrative complaint filed by the ACLU and the ACLU of Washington on behalf of Justin Wetherell, a nonbinary and gender fluid flight attendant and flight attendant instructor at Alaska Airlines.