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Female Pilot Says She Was Discriminated Against For Being Pregnant And Breastfeeding


Right before you're about to take off on a commercial flight, the pilot's voice comes on - reassuring, upbeat, factual and almost always male. That's because only 6% of commercial pilots are women. We're joined now by one of them, Randi Freyer. She is suing Frontier Airlines, alleging that the company discriminated against her and other pilots for being pregnant and breastfeeding. Welcome to the program.

RANDI FREYER: Thanks for having me, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: When did you want to become a pilot? What inspired you?

FREYER: I think that my mom was my biggest inspiration. Nobody in our family, especially women, were pilots. I think that was something that was pretty odd to our family. And she just was a really good support through that when a lot of people just kind of thought it was too out of the ordinary.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, let's dig into that a little bit. What was the culture like when you were getting your commercial pilot's license?

FREYER: It's very - it's not supported to have women in the environment. It's very male-driven. And I've supported in the way of, you know, I found the right mentors. I found the right support team. And anything career related, I was supported very well by those people. And then as soon as I really started having kids and getting married, those support beams start to disappear.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Was that shocking to you?

FREYER: It's a little bit shocking because you work really hard. And you put all your efforts towards attaining your hours and, you know, building your network and just flying as much as possible. And then you start down the family track, and then all that support kind of disappears again. And it - I just don't think it should be that way because you can balance. Men have been doing it for a very long time - the family track, as well as having a career.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: In the lawsuit, you allege that Frontier refused to make it possible for you to pump breast milk on the job. It forced all pregnant pilots to go on unpaid leave at 32 weeks of pregnancy. It gives no paid parental leave. And there were no nonbathroom locations to be able to pump breast milk. What was that like?

FREYER: You know, I really knew that I wanted to breastfeed my kids because it's just something that is non-negotiable. So on the job, I was willing to make whatever it took happen - if it was bathrooms, which is not sanitary. It's not great. So I had to take extreme measures to make sure that it was safe and clean. And, you know, you really just wear gloves, don't touch anything, Clorox down the place, try and - during the short time that you have the pump, put on a hands-free pumping bra and really just pump as quick as you can, which - it's not like going to the bathroom. You can't always force your body to say, OK, it's time to pump.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What would you like to see happen?

FREYER: Really, I just want a policy for when you're forced on unpaid leave. There can be ground positions available because they do it for people that have medical disabilities. Reasonable parental policies so, you know, mothers don't have to return to work so soon after giving birth so that they have time to nurture their babes and to nurse them, if they choose to do so. And then it's also really important that mothers have accommodations for pumping - just a quick list of reliable places that actually exist to be provided to you so you know where you can go pump.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We should say Frontier has denied the allegations in your suit and said in a written statement earlier this month that the airline has, quote, "Strong policies in place in support of pregnant and lactating mothers and remains committed to treating all of its team members equally and fairly." Why did you decide to press the suit?

FREYER: When you first start having the need - you know, you go on leave for having a baby, or you're forced out on leave, it's as if you're the very first person in the airline industry to have ever had kids, to have ever needed to breastfeed their child. And I'm doing this because there's so many people behind me that will be moms. Dads are behind us, too. It needs to be more of a parental support system. It's not like this has ever - not ever happened in any industry, especially ours. People have had families in this industry for a very long time. That's usually who replaces the next generation of pilots.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That was Randi Freyer, one of four pilots suing Frontier Airlines. A group of female flight attendants also has a separate suit. Thank you very much.

FREYER: No problem. Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.