Alaska Airlines’ uniform gender policy is likely discriminatory, Washington state commission says
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The Washington State Commission on Human Rights said Monday that Alaska Airlines’ dress code policy requiring employees to wear its “male” or “female” uniform is likely discriminatory.
The commission issued afinding of reasonable causeof discriminating against the Seattle-based airline for enforcing its one-size-fits-all policy in which flight attendants are required to conform to a rigid set of gender-specific dress and grooming standards — meaning the he company dictates whether employees can wear dresses or skirts; ties or scarves; have facial hair or even wear lipstick.
The case stems from a complaint filed in December 2020 by Justin Wetherell, a flight attendant and flight attendant instructor who was hired by the airline in July 2015.
Wetherell, who is non-binary and uses the pronouns they/them, alleged that their employer discriminated against them for forcing them to fit into a “binary uniform system”.
The airline also refused to make an exception for Wetherell, according to the complaint.
“A preponderance of the evidence” supports that the employee was discriminated against on the basis of gender identity and gender expression, the commission wrote in its investigation report.
Wetherell was treated less favorably than flight attendants who identify as either male or female, because although they had uniform kits designed for them, and Wetherell was forced “to try to fit in in a binary uniform system despite identifying as neither male nor female,” the commission wrote. . He added that Wetherell had also made “multiple requests for exceptions to the uniform policy that would have allowed them to dress and groom according to their gender identity.”
“The illegal and discriminatory uniform policy maintained by Alaska Airlines requires employees like me to dress and groom in a manner inconsistent with our gender identities and gender expressions,” Wetherell said in a statement.
“There is no reason for the airline to continue to enforce this illegal policy – other than to maintain an outdated and discriminatory gender ideal,” they added.
In June 2021, the American Civil Liberties Union and its Washington affiliate sent a letter to Alaska Airlines urging the company to stop enforcing the gendered uniform policy, alleging it was a violation of US law. Washington State, “which explicitly prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex”. identity, appearance, behavior or expression and violates state and federal prohibitions against sex discrimination,” according to the ACLU.
The airline responded in a statement saying the company is “a longtime supporter of the LGBTQ+ community”, adding that “as of 2020, all flight attendants have been able to order any style of pants or parka and were able to select the uniform kit of their choice, regardless of their gender identity.
On Monday, Linda Morris, staff attorney for the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, said the airline’s “uniform policy reflects and reinforces archaic and harmful gender stereotypes.”
The ACLU hopes the commission’s findings “will be a wake-up call for Alaska Airlines to immediately remove these gender restrictions from its policy consistent with the rights of its employees,” Morris said.