ACLU Tells Alaska Airlines to Stop Discriminating Against Non-Binary and Gender Non-Conforming Flight Attendants

Affiliate: ACLU of Washington
June 4, 2021 10:00 am

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SEATTLE — The American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter today to Alaska Airlines telling the airline to stop enforcing a uniform policy that requires flight attendants to conform to a rigid set of “male” and “female” dress and grooming standards. The letter was sent on behalf of Justin Wetherell, a flight attendant and flight-attendant instructor based in Seattle.

“When I am working as a flight-attendant instructor and allowed to wear regular business attire, I am not forced into Alaska Airlines’ ‘male’ or ‘female’ uniform policies — neither of which fit me because I am non-binary,” said Wetherell, who has been with Alaska Airlines for seven years. “But when I work as a flight attendant, I am forced into one of two standards, often for up to four days at a time. I am willing to follow all of the elements of the uniform policy for professional attire, as I do when I work as an instructor, but I don’t want to be forced into a binary uniform that excludes me and leads to me being misgendered at work.”

The letter alleges that Alaska Airlines’ uniform policy violates Washington state law, which explicitly prohibits discrimination based on gender identity, appearance, behavior, or expression and violates state and federal prohibitions against sex discrimination. The uniform policy comprehensively regulates every aspect of a flight attendant’s appearance as part of either the “male” or “female” uniform, including which pants and cardigans employees may wear, whether employees must wear their hair up or down, how many earrings employees are allowed to wear, whether employees may wear makeup or just concealer, and whether employees may roll up their sleeves.

“The uniform policy places a particularly heavy burden on non-binary employees, but the uniform’s policy also harms any flight attendant who does not fit Alaska Airlines’ preferred image of either male or female,” said Joshua Block, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s LGBTQ & HIV Project. “By forcing our client and countless other employees to adhere to Alaska Airlines’ rigid gender categories, the uniform policy demeans employees who do not conform to gender stereotypes and interferes with their ability to do their jobs.”

“Policing gender is always wrong, and in many instances — including with Justin and Alaska Airlines — illegal,” said Galen Sherwin, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project which sent the letter along with the ACLU LGBTQ & HIV Project. “Alaska Airlines is free to adopt dress and grooming standards that present a consistent image for customers in terms of colors and style as long as the standards are not based on characteristics protected by state and federal civil rights laws. But Washington state law prohibits companies from treating employees differently based on their sex, gender-related ‘appearance, behavior, or expression,’ including as part of its uniform. By creating different clothing standards based on sex and gender stereotypes, Alaska Airlines violates the law.”

“Alaska Airlines states it is a ‘longtime supporter of the LGBTQ+ community … committed to a building a more equitable society.’ The company professes to create a welcoming environment for all employees. It’s time to change this antiquated uniform policy, both in order to make good on this commitment and to end the discrimination I face along with many other employees,” said Wetherell.

The letter was sent by the ACLU’s Jon L. Stryker and Slobodan Randjelović LGBTQ & HIV Project, the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, and the ACLU of Washington.

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