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Airline employee awarded settlement after denied place to pump breast milk

In the past, a lactating pilot reported having to pump breast milk while in the cockpit.

breast pump parts
Pumping breast milk can be done manually or using an electric pump. Photo: Google Commons

An airline settled with a flight attendant who said she had nowhere to pump breast milk, awarding her $30,000 for emotional distress and attorney fees.

The flight attendant for Endeavor Air, a subsidiary of Delta Airlines, pumped breast milk in 2015 to feed her underweight newborn. When the woman went back to work, the only private area to pump in John F. Kennedy International Airport was in Terminal 2, about 25 minutes away from Terminal 4 where her flights arrived and departed.

Women who breastfeed or pump have to express the breast milk every two to three hours. The process can take up to 20 minutes and requires cleaning tubing and flanges that the milk flows through.

Endeavor Air, which also flies into LaGuardia Airport, denied the female employee’s requests for a closer space, which violates the NYC Human Rights Law, according to the New York City Commission on Human Rights. The airline suggested the woman, who won’t speak publicly because she still works for the company, use the family restroom in Terminal 4 or a communal staff lounge.

The 33-year-old testified that her milk production waned, interrupting milk flow and that the situation cost her sleep and caused her stress.

The woman filed a lawsuit with the New York City Commission on Human Rights in February 2016. Endeavor said it did not think it has a legal requirement to provide breastfeeding mothers a private area to pump. In May 2016, the commission issued guidance on pregnancy protections for new and expecting mothers, but the airline had already created a closer space for nursing employees.

In March, Endeavor Air settled with the flight attendant, paying out $20,000 for emotional distress and $10,000 in attorneys’ fees.

The Human Rights Commission has the power to fine violators up to $250,000 and award monetary damages to victims.

Endeavor Air also agreed to revise its employee accommodation policies nationwide to adhere to the NYC Human Rights Law, as well as train New York City-based staff on the policies and publicly post information about employment rights for pregnant or nursing mothers.

“Every woman in New York City has the right to a reasonable accommodation in the workplace related to pregnancy and childbirth, such as access to convenient, private spaces to express breast milk,”  Carmelyn Malalis, chairwoman and commissioner of the city Commission on Human Rights, said. “This case puts every employer in New York City on notice that they must reasonably accommodate new and expecting mothers or they will hear from the Commission.”

Four female pilots, represented by the ACLU, sued Frontier Airlines for discrimination in May 2016, and pilots at Delta Air Lines lobbied their “male-dominated union” to negotiate for paid maternity leave, Fortune reported.

In the past, lactating airline crew reported having to pump in public bathrooms during rushed turnarounds, according to Fortune, and one pilot said she had to pump while seated next to her male co-pilot in the cockpit.

If you or someone you know experiences discrimination, call 311 and ask for Human Rights or call the commission directly at 718-722-3131.

 

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