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Female pilots experience workplace discrimination as mothers

In 1973, the first female pilot was hired by a major commercial airline in the United States. Before that time, men flew the planes, and women were flight attendants. While women in California and across the country have been making strides against workplace discrimination, some feel that the airline industry is not keeping up, especially when it comes to new and nursing mothers.

Many employers in other professions are revisiting their family leave policies to allow women time to stay home and nurse their babies. In lieu of this, some create safe places for women to pump breast milk after they return to work. Women pilots are protesting that they do not get the same considerations.

In fact, because of issues of privacy and safety, airlines are not required to make accommodations for new mothers. In order to pump breast milk, for example, a female pilot would have to leave the cockpit for up to 20 minutes, which is an unacceptably long time. In addition to this, women pilots in most airlines are contractually obligated to stop flying eight to 14 weeks before the baby is due. This means loss of pay for those women.

Because they cannot receive the workplace adjustments other professions provide, some woman are proposing paid maternity leave so they can breast feed at home. Other pilots are suing their companies for ground assignments during pregnancy and lactation. These grass roots movements are bringing attention to an issue that has been languishing at the bottom of union agendas because of the fact that only four percent of the nation’s pilots are women.

Some airlines are taking a new look at their policies and discussing possible changes with union representatives. Meanwhile, women of every profession in California and across the country fight workplace discrimination to make jobs more welcoming for new and expectant mothers. Some are able to do this with the cooperation of their employers. However, many others rely on the experience of an attorney who is dedicated to protecting their rights.

Source:, “Airlines grapple with accommodating new motherhood at 30,000 feet“, Annalyn Kurtz, Aug. 20, 2016