Female pilots say working conditions made it impossible to express breast milk

Working mothers who are committed to breastfeeding often have to express breast milk while on the job. Even under the best of circumstances, this situation can be uncomfortable and taxing for women.

However, when an employer isn’t sympathetic to women’s needs in these situations, those female staffers may actually suffer negative health effects. Women who aren’t able to express breast milk when they need to may contract bacterial infections, or they may prematurely lose the ability to produce milk.

That’s exactly what four female employees of Frontier Airlines say happened to them. The women, all pilots, have filed discrimination complaints with the EEOC.

Let’s take a look at what happened in this instance and then talk about what it means to you.

Nowhere to go

Shannon Kiedrowski, Brandy Beck, Erin Zielinski and Randi Freyer have collectively worked for Frontier Airlines for more than 25 years.

While they claim to love their jobs, they found the company’s policies surrounding pregnancy and childbirth to be unsatisfactory.

First, the airline forced each of them (as it does all pregnant women) to take eight to 10 weeks of unpaid leave before their due dates. It allows a maximum of 120 days of maternity leave. All maternity leave is unpaid.

Then, when the women returned to work, they allege that the company made it nearly impossible for them to express breast milk on the job due to long flights and challenging schedules.

One pilot claims that she was disciplined for using her breast pump on an aircraft. Another alleges that tried to use a designated nursing space at one airport, but was unable to because the room was being used for storage. She was repeatedly interrupted when she attempted to use an empty office instead.

The airline argues that they provided designated nursing rooms at various airports. However, the pilots point out that the locations were often as far as a half mile away from the flight gates. The women also allege that they were not aware of nursing locations at many airports.

As a result, three of the pilots had to be treated for the bacterial infection mastitis.  One of the women claims that she had to terminate breastfeeding earlier than she would’ve liked because she was no longer able to produce breast milk.

Not everyone is protected

So what are nursing mothers’ rights when it comes to expressing breast milk at work?

A 2010 amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) provides protection to express breast milk at work, however, it only applies to non-exempt employees who work for companies that are governed by the FLSA.

The FLSA requires that employers:

  • Provide reasonable break time for nursing mothers to express breast milk for a nursing child for a period of one year after the child’s birth. These breaks do not have to compensated, unless the woman expresses breast milk during a break in which she would normally be paid.
  • Allow the mother to take breaks to express breast milk every time she needs to do so.
  • Provide a private location for a woman to express breast milk. This location cannot be a restroom. It must be shielded from view, and free from intrusion from other workers or the public.
  • Ensure that the location is available every time the woman needs to use it if the location is not specifically designated for that purpose.

What About Hourly Employees?

While the FLSA amendment “encourages” employers to allow all nursing mothers to take breaks to express breast milk, there’s no specific legal protection for exempt employees.

However, there are some other laws that may provide some protection for both exempt and non-exempt nursing mothers.

For example, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) prohibits discrimination against a woman based on current or past pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.  A section of the PDA addresses expressing breast milk, stating that women who are lactating must be allowed the same freedom to address their physical needs as would any other employee who is experiencing a non-incapacitating medical condition.

Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and the City of Philadelphia also have laws in place prohibiting pregnancy discrimination.

Call Us for a Free Consultation

If you feel that you’ve been discriminated against due to pregnancy and childbirth, it’s a good idea to speak to an attorney about your rights.

Email us at murphy@phillyemploymentlawyer.com, or call (267) 273-1054 for a free consultation.