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Airline sued over pregnancy and breastfeeding discrimination

Changes made to the Fair Labor Standards Act in 2010 require most employers in New York and around the country to make reasonable accommodations for breastfeeding mothers, and the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act prohibits them from treating workers unfairly because they are pregnant. A lawsuit filed on Dec. 10 by a group of Frontier Airlines flight attendants and pilots accuses the Colorado-based carrier of violating these laws. The women allege that they were forced to take unpaid leave long before their babies were due and reprimanded for pumping milk.

The women are being represented in the employment discrimination lawsuit by American Civil Liberties Union attorneys. One of the plaintiff says that she was forced to make ends meet without a paycheck for several months during both of her pregnancies, and a pilot alleges that the airline threatened to remove her from flight duty for pumping milk. Similar complaints have been made by Frontier Airlines workers in the past, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The airline responded to the lawsuit by denying the claims. A Frontier Airlines representative said that the carrier does as much as possible to accommodate pregnant and breastfeeding workers while meeting strict safety regulations. Workers advocacy groups are unlikely to be surprised by the Frontier response as the industry has a long history of gender discrimination problems. Airlines were criticized in the 1990s for imposing weight restrictions on female flight attendants, and Delta Airlines was accused of denying reasonable breastfeeding accommodations in 2017.

Lawsuits like this one are often settled at the negotiating table by companies that are worried about publicity and a possible public backlash. Attorneys with experience in this area could advise workers who are considering filing a claim over pregnancy discrimination or breastfeeding accommodations to gather evidence that could add weight to arguments made during settlement negotiations. This evidence could include copies of workplace policies or communications and photographs of the facilities provided to breastfeeding mothers.

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