The American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations have filed two lawsuits against Frontier Airlines for pregnancy discrimination against female pilots and flight attendants.
The lawsuits, filed Tuesday by four Frontier pilots and four flight attendants, claims the company penalized women for absences related to pregnancy, denied breastfeeding employees basic accommodations and forced pregnant employees to take unpaid leave before their due dates, among other allegations.
Such policies meant women faced “mounting obstacles once they became pregnant that forced them to make impossible choices between their families and their livelihood,” according to the suit.
The suits reflect a glaring gender gap that has plagued the airline industry for a long time. Less than 10% of aircraft pilots and flight engineers employed in the U.S. last year identified as women, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Though three-quarters of the flight attendants employed were women.
Brandy Beck, one of the plaintiffs, has been a Frontier pilot since 2003.
Beck, now 45, told The Wall Street Journal that when she was pregnant with her second child in 2014, Frontier gave women up to four months of unpaid leave (they had the option of also using accrued paid time off) and offered no accommodations for pilots who breastfed their children. She pumped milk during or between flights in the airplane bathroom.
She said human resources largely ignored her questions, so she sought advice from other women.
“It was almost like a secret society,” she told WSJ. “Everyone had a different story and a different arrangement. There was no consistency or policy.”
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In a statement to PEOPLE, Frontier Airlines spokeswoman Jennifer De La Cruz said the airlines denied the allegations and would “defend vigorously against these lawsuits.”
“Frontier offers a number of accommodations for pregnant and lactating pilots and flight attendants within the bounds of protecting public safety, which is always our top priority,” she added.
Airlines are exempt from the Affordable Care Act’s requirement for a private, non-bathroom space to pump in for workplaces with more than 50 employees.