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Monday, May 16, 2016

Hey, Frontier: Suspending Women For Breastfeeding Is Illegal

The story about Frontier Airline's treatment of female pilots who are breastfeeding and need to pump while at work wasn't very surprising to me, because employers still get the whole pumping-at-work thing wrong. Here's what the four pilots who just filed with EEOC say happened:

"Rather than support me, company management questioned my parenting choices as well as my commitment to my career. They even questioned why I didn’t switch to formula,” pilot Shannon Kiedrowski said in a blog post about the complaint. 
Kiedrowski said she and the other pilots were put on unpaid leave at 32 weeks and weren’t allowed to perform other work for the airline. Women who are in their late third trimester are usually discouraged from flying. 
When they returned to work, the company offered no accommodations for breastfeeding mothers, they said. Three of the pilots said they suffered breast infections because they couldn't pump regularly, due to work-schedule demands, and Kiedrowski said she received unspecified discipline for pumping aboard an airplane.

I'm not sure why employers get this so wrong. First of all, twenty-seven states have laws protecting women from breastfeeding discrimination at work. Florida is not one of them, by the way (so wake up, Florida legislators). But Colorado, where this story took place, is one of them. The states protecting women are Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wyoming, plus DC and Puerto Rico.

Women were still having problems with this issue in the other 23 states when Congress finally woke up in 2010 and passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act which, among other things amended the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to require employers to provide reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for one year after the child's birth each time such employee has need to express milk, and a private place other than a bathroom for her to do so. (This law only applies to employees who are not exempt from overtime.)

Then there were some weird cases where judges said pregnancy discrimination didn't include discrimination against women who were lactating because lactation was not a condition caused by pregnancy. Doh!

But then the Supremes came out with the Young v. UPS case saying employers had to accommodate women with pregnancy and pregnancy-related conditions the same as other employees. So now I think it seems clear that an employer has to accommodate a breastfeeding mom who needs some breaks to express breast milk the same they'd treat a man with prostate problems who has to take frequent breaks to express, um, pee. EEOC certainly agrees that allowing time to express breast milk is a reasonable accommodation for pregnant women.

Bottom line: I don't care if your employer thinks it's icky. They still have to grant you reasonable time to express breast milk during work hours, in a private place that is not a bathroom. and they can't just suspend you without pay because they think it's gross or inconvenient.


I appreciate your comments and general questions but this isn't the place to ask confidential legal questions. If you need an employee-side employment lawyer, try http://exchange.nela.org/findalawyer to locate one in your state.