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Frontier agrees to let flight attendants pump breast milk on the job

A Frontier executive touted the advancement of "wearable lactation technology" in helping make the settlement possible.

(CN) — Mothers who sued Frontier in federal court over a lack of maternity leave and space to pump breast milk on the job reached a settlement with the Denver-based airline Wednesday.

“I’m glad that flight attendants who want to breastfeed will be given the time and space to pump breast milk in a healthy, sanitary way,” said Melissa Hodgkins, one of four flight attendants and four pilots to sue Frontier in 2019, in a statement.

“Future flight attendants won’t have to worry about how they are going to fit in pumping between flights or wonder where they will be able to pump safely,” Hodgkins added. “I gave up breastfeeding to provide for my family, and no one should have to make that choice again.”

Wednesday's settlement applies only to Frontier flight attendants.

A pair of class actions filed in 2019 claimed Frontier denied pregnant employees paid maternity leave, forcing expectant mothers to take unpaid leave weeks or months before they were due. The employees said the carrier ignored requests for temporary reassignment to positions on the ground which would have allowed them to continue earning an income.

In addition, expressing breast milk for newborns was all but impossible on the job. Breastfeeding is associated with numerous health benefits for both mothers and their babies, but it can be a time-consuming operation and is difficult without workplace accommodations. Most women need to pump milk or nurse every three to four hours to maintain milk supply. Failing to express milk regularly often causes pain, infection, and milk supply reduction.

According to a release announcing the settlement, Frontier will allow flight attendants to use wearable breast pumps to express milk in air. On the ground, Frontier will help employees find airport lactation facilities.

“We’re proud to be at the forefront of accommodating the needs of pregnant and breastfeeding mothers in the airline industry,” said Jacalyn Peter, vice president of labor relations for Frontier Airlines, in a statement. “Thanks in part to advances in wearable lactation technology, the parties were able to reach an amicable resolution of this case that does not jeopardize public safety.”

The airline also pledged to stop using its "dependability policy" to dock women for pregnancy-related absences and will offer medical leave or temporary reassignments to pregnant or lactating women as needed.

Galen Sherwin, senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union Women’s Rights Project, represented the flight attendants and pilots. In a statement, Sherwin said she hoped the settlement encourages other airlines to accommodate pregnant and breastfeeding flight crew.

The parties agreed to cover their own attorney fees.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Hegarty took the case from George W. Bush-appointed U.S. District Judge Christine Arguello.

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Categories / Civil Rights, Employment, Health

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