Frontier pilots make discrimination claim over breastfeeding policies

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DENVER -- Four female pilots for Frontier Airlines are demanding policy changes from the Denver-based airline. The women allege the company has discriminated against them by failing to accommodate female pilots when they're pregnant or breast pumping.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a complaint on behalf of the women.

"You're in the cockpit with the window shades up trying to pump while you're on the ground sitting there doing your other responsibilities afterwards trying to fit that in. It's just a lot," Randi Freyer said.

The women in the complaint said they were unable to find sanitary places on the aircraft to breast pump. They said Frontier ignored the issue.

"It's sad because you almost do feel a little bit of shame," Freyer said.

Freyer even suffered from mastitis, an infection of the breast tissue as a result of not pumping on schedule. The other pilots have faced similar challenges and it's why they are demanding policy changes from the airline.

"This is something really important and I should be doing this for my child. It's not abnormal to have a child and that's kind of how you're treated," Freyer said.

The women are not seeking compensation, just options:

  • Clean places to pump in the aircraft and airports
  • Clear guidelines
  • Chance to work a job on the ground during unpaid maternity leave

"We want simple, nothing over the top. Just a policy change, where they address it and don't try to avoid it," Freyer said.

The ACLU said Frontier's unclear policy violates state and federal laws against sex discrimination. First Officer Erin Zielinski, who had planned to breastfeed her child for one year, said she quit nursing early when her milk supply dried up.

In 2014, while flying a regular Denver to Los Angeles route, Zielinski said she had 15 minutes to pump in the plane lavatory, between flight preparation, flying the aircraft and readying the plane for a quick turnaround back to Denver.

"I love my job as a pilot so much, except for this issue," Zielinski said. "We don't want future moms to have to go through this. We want a better policy for everyone going forward. There are more and more female pilots being hired, including at Frontier. We don't want anyone to have to choose between flying and breastfeeding."

Some of the women also claim they suffered financial stress from unpaid leave before giving birth.

In a contract negotiated by Frontier Airline Pilots Association in 2007, pilots can work through the 32nd week of pregnancy, provided they have medical clearance.

The pilot will then request maternity leave. Once the pilot has given birth, maternity leave is granted for up to 120 days -- and must be taken in concurrence with the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.

Frontier Airlines released a statement Tuesday night.

"Our policies and practices comply with all federal and state laws as well as with the relevant provisions of the collective bargaining agreement between Frontier and its pilots group.  While there are many work places that might allow for nursing mothers to express breast milk during a break from work activities, the duties of a commercial airline pilot present unique circumstances. We have made good-faith efforts to identify and provide rooms and other secure locations for use by breast-feeding pilots during their duty travel."

The group "sought information, support, and accommodations from Frontier, but were met with indifference or outright hostility," according to the ACLU.

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