Two female flight attendants with Frontier Airlines filed discrimination complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Tuesday, alleging the airline did not accommodate them during their pregnancies and while they were breastfeeding — including forbidding them from pumping breast milk during 10-hour shifts.
Jo Roby and Stacy Rewitzer, both flight attendants with Frontier for more than a decade, allege they were forced to take unpaid leave after giving birth when the airline refused to provide accommodations that would allow them to pump breast milk while on duty.
The complaint, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado and the law firm of Holwell Shuster & Goldberg, alleges Frontier’s policies violate federal and state laws against discrimination based on sex, pregnancy, childbirth, and disability in employment as well as the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
“Frontier’s policies are discriminatory at a structural level and need to be changed,” Galen Sherwin, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project said in a statement. “How is it that a job that is majority female still fails to take into account pregnancy and breastfeeding? It’s time for Frontier to start addressing the needs of pregnant and breastfeeding workers — both inside and outside the flight deck.”
Roby says she was not given any specific period of maternity leave other than the days mandated by the Family and Medical Leave Act and some accrued sick days she had left. She was scheduled to return to work two months after her daughter was born, but she got an additional two month unpaid medical leave extension.
Once she returned to the job, Roby said she was still breastfeeding her daughter and needed to pump milk every three to four hours, which resulted in her using the family bathroom at Denver International Airport and the lavatory on board flights in between her active duties as a flight attendant.
"I would have preferred not to have to pump breast milk in the aircraft lavatory, if it could be avoided," she wrote in her complaint. "The lavatory is unsanitary for this purpose and cramped."
Pumping in the family bathroom in the airport was also unsanitary, Roby continued, adding that she once saw two cockroaches running across the bathroom floor while pumping. Separately, the airport cleaning staff also cautioned her to not use the bathroom to pump because there had been urine all over the floor.
Colorado law requires private and public employers to provide employees with a room — other than a toilet stall — that's in close proximity to their work area to pump breast milk for up to two years after the child is born.
When Roby asked for these accommodations, she said she was denied and prohibited from pumping while on the aircraft at all — leading her to take additional unpaid medical leave.
"I want my daughter to have the health benefits of breast milk and I value the bonding experience that I share with my daughter during breastfeeding," she wrote in the complaint.
In a statement, a Frontier Airlines spokesperson said the company's policies and practices comply with federal and state laws.
"We have made good-faith efforts to identity and provide rooms and other secure locations for use by breast-feeding flight attendants during their duty travel," the statement reads.
After giving birth to her son in May 2016, Rewitzer also requested accommodations to pump milk while on duty, her complaint reads. The request was denied, leading Rewitzer to take unpaid medical leave to care for her child — something she says has caused her great financial harm.
According to the complaint Rewitzer also risked being fired because Frontier's policy penalizes employees for absences, even when they're medically related.
“I love my job as a flight attendant for Frontier Airlines and shouldn’t have to choose between my job or my health and breastfeeding my child,” Rewitzer said in a statement. “I’m proud to stand with the pilots who stood up to Frontier before us.”