DENVER — A federal court yesterday denied Frontier Airlines’ request to dismiss a lawsuit filed by four flight attendants who allege the company discriminates against pregnant and breastfeeding employees. The court’s action allows the proposed class action lawsuit, which is a companion to a related case filed by four Frontier pilots, to move forward.
The employees have alleged that Frontier denies accommodations to pregnant or breastfeeding flight attendants that would be given to other employees with a medical condition — such as when someone is temporarily unable to fly — which has led to pregnant and breastfeeding flight attendants being forced onto leave without pay. The lawsuit also challenges the company’s “dependability” policy, which has been used to penalize flight attendants who miss or are late to work because of pregnancy.
“It’s past time for Frontier Airlines, and the airline industry as a whole, to ensure flight attendants and pilots have access to the basic, common-sense accommodations they need to continue working while they’re pregnant or breastfeeding,” said Galen Sherwin, senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union Women’s Rights Project. “Pregnancy discrimination was outlawed 40 years ago and there is no reason it should still be happening today.”
“I love my job, and it was not an easy decision to bring a lawsuit against my employer. But no one else should have to face the choices I faced,” said Melissa Hodgkins, the lead named plaintiff in the case. “I’m encouraged that the court recognized that our case is valid. My fellow flight attendants and I, along with the pilots, look forward to proving that Frontier’s policies around pregnancy and breastfeeding are not only discriminatory and harmful, they are also illegal.”
In addition to being forced onto unpaid leave during pregnancy and when they were breastfeeding, the complaint alleges that the named plaintiffs were forced to pump breast milk in unsanitary airplane lavatories, prohibited from pumping at all while they were at work, and forced to choose between their paycheck and continuing to breastfeed. In denying the motion to dismiss the case, the court recognized that these were the kind of harms that entitled the plaintiffs to bring a lawsuit, and further, that Frontier’s conduct as described in the case could violate state and federal antidiscrimination laws, the Family and Medical Leave Act, and a Colorado law that requires employers to provide accommodations for pumping.
“There is no reason that businesses today can’t find ways to accommodate pregnant and breastfeeding workers,” said Juno Turner, Litigation Director of Towards Justice. “Now more than ever, it is in employers’ interest to keep willing workers on the job instead of forcing them onto unpaid leave. We’re glad the court recognized that failing to address the basic needs of pregnant and breastfeeding workers can be discriminatory, and that the airline industry does not get a pass.”
The lawsuits were filed by the ACLU, the ACLU of Colorado, Holwell Shuster & Goldberg LLP, and Towards Justice.
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