- Four female pilots and four female flight attendants for Frontier Airlines are suing the company in two lawsuits, alleging multiple claims of pregnancy and breastfeeding bias (Freyer, et al. v. Frontier Airlines, Inc., No. 19-cv-03468 (D. Colo. Dec. 10, 2019)), (Hodgkins, et al. v. Frontier Airlines, Inc., No. 19-cv-03469 (D. Colo. Dec. 10, 2019)).
- The airline enforced policies that allegedly forced all pregnant pilots onto unpaid leave at 32 weeks of pregnancy, refused to provide any accommodations (such as temporary reassignment), and refused to accommodate on-duty breastfeeding-related needs. The pilots say they suffered painful engorgement and mastitis, as well as the humiliation of leaking breasts, as a result of these policies. The pilots allege in their complaint that "Frontier has systematically discriminated against pregnant and breastfeeding pilots by singling out pregnancy and breastfeeding for disadvantaged treatment."
- The flight attendants made similar allegations, remarking that "Frontier's policies and practices challenged here are a legacy of the long and unfortunate history of sex discrimination in the airline industry as a whole."
Many companies have fallen behind both best practices and legal requirements when it comes to accommodating nursing mothers.
The Fair Labor Standards Act was amended by the Affordable Care Act in 2010 to include a Break Time for Nursing Mothers requirement. For one year following the birth of a baby, companies with 50 or more employees must permit a "reasonable" break when the employee needs to express milk. The employee must have access to a private space other than a bathroom, shielded from view and intrusion from coworkers and the public. (The Frontier pilots say they were forced to pump in airplane lavatories.)
The law applies only to hourly workers, and the breaks need not be paid. Some state and local laws may entail further protections.
Experts have recommended that employers go beyond the bare-bones legal requirements and provide a space with a comfortable chair, a locking door, a table, and an outlet for the breast pump. If the space is available only to nursing mothers, there is less chance it will be commandeered by other employees. Employers who lack the space for a dedicated nursing room can look into other options, such as free-standing nursing pods.
Even with legally compliant breastfeeding policies and facilities in place, a supportive workplace culture is essential to ensuring that nursing moms feel comfortable taking the time and space they are legally entitled to. HR can draft and distribute a lactation policy, train managers about lactation accommodations, and reinforce the company's commitment to supporting new moms as well as other family-friendly priorities.