Alaska Airlines’s Gendered Dress Codes Are Likely Discriminatory, Says WA State Commission on Human Rights

Affiliate: ACLU of Washington
September 12, 2022 11:15 am

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Gillian Branstetter, Communications Strategist,

OLYMPIA, Wash. – The Washington State Commission on Human Rights today issued a reasonable cause finding of discrimination against Alaska Airlines over the company’s enforcement of a uniform policy that requires flight attendants to conform to a rigid set of gendered dress and grooming standards.

“The illegal and discriminatory uniform policy maintained by Alaska Airlines forces employees like me to dress and groom in a manner inconsistent with our gender identities and gender expressions,” said Justin Wetherell, a non-binary flight attendant and flight-attendant instructor for Alaska Airlines based in Seattle. “There is no reason for the airline to continue to enforce this illegal policy – other than to maintain an outdated and discriminatory ideal of gender.”

The uniform policy at Alaska Airlines comprehensively regulates every aspect of a flight attendant's appearance by requiring them to wear either the “masculine” or “feminine” uniform, which in turn dictates whether employees may wear dresses or skirts, whether employees may wear lipstick or facial hair, what color shoes employees may wear, and whether employees may wear ties or neck scarves.

The commission found the airline’s dress code forced Wetherell “to try fitting into a binary uniform system despite identifying as neither male nor female and making multiple requests for exceptions to the uniform policy that would have allowed them to dress and groom according to their gender identity.”

“The airline’s uniform policy reflects and reinforces archaic and harmful gender stereotypes,” said Linda Morris, staff attorney for the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project. “We hope that the commission’s finding serves as a wake-up call for Alaska Airlines to immediately remove these gendered restrictions from its policy in accordance with their employees’ rights.”

“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.”

The American Civil Liberties Union and the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington sent a letter to Alaska Air in June of 2021 alleging 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.

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