Friday, May 13, 2016
Pilots Who Are Nursing Moms Bring EEOC Charges against Frontier Airlines
It's too bad that law school finals are over because this situation has all of the labor and employment bases covered. The ACLU and the Colorado law firm of Holwell Shuster & Goldberg have filed charges with the EEOC on behalf of four pilots who argue that the airline's policies discriminate against women by failing to provide accommodations related to pregnancy and breast feeding. You can download the charges from that link if you are interested in the details.
Essentially, the charges allege that pregnant pilots are forced to take unpaid leave beginning as early as 10 weeks before their due dates and are then allowed up to 120 days after delivery of unpaid leave. Those who are nursing when they return are not accommodated at the airports nor allowed to express milk during flights, according to the charges. Three of the four women suffered mastitis as a result of the lack of accommodations. The pilots have proposed a number of accommodations like temporary non-flying assignments that would allow women to work longer before delivery and to allow for easier accommodation of milk expression, extension of maternity leave for women who want it, and designated places where the women could pump in airports Frontier uses and on the plane when necessary. According to NPR, the airline asserts that there are locations for expressing milk in airports that comply with federal and state law.
Although the charges themselves really only deal with Title VII (although they also mention Colorado's Fair Employment Practices Act and Colorado's Workplace Accommodation of Nursing Mothers Act), the lack of accommodations may also violate the FLSA (as amended by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act). In addition, the workplace is governed by a collective bargaining agreement, which has rules setting out non-flying reassignments, but only for on-the-job injuries.
If the charge does not lead to a settlement, the subsequent lawsuit will give a court the chance to apply the Supreme Court's framework for accommodations set out in Young v. UPS. This case is similar as it relates to pre-delivery leave, but it's also different. It is not clear that the women must take pre-delivery leave because of any medical reason. The policy requires that pilots take leave once they are no longer "medically authorized to fly," or at 32 weeks, whichever is earlier. For healthy women, doctors generally don't suggest limits on flying until 36 weeks, mostly because of the possibility of early labor. Because Frontier, requires leave by the 32d week of pregnancy, (and some women don't deliver until the 42d week), there might be several weeks where the pilot could work, but is prohibited. This requirement looks like the one struck down in Cleveland Bd. of Educ. v. LaFleur, which required pregnant school teachers to take leave before it was medically required.
The case is also somewhat different on the accommodations for milk expression. The situation Peggy Young found herself in at UPS would likely be taken care of by the ADA as amended. Her lifting restriction, imposed to prevent miscarriage or premature activity, would be found an impairment of a major life activity, most likely. And transfer to a vacant position, likely a reasonable accommodation that would not pose an undue hardship, since UPS provided that accommodation for a number of other reasons. Here, lactation itself isn't an impairment but an extension of the normal physiological processes of pregnancy and delivery. Lactation isn't impairment of normal breast function; it is normal breast function. So these accommodations may only be protected by Title VII and not by the ADA.
In any event, it will be interesting to see how this one plays out and whether remedies under other laws that might provide relief are pursued.