Alaska Airlines Attendant Says Uniform Policy Is Discriminatory Against Non-Binary Employees
An Alaska Airlines flight attendant says that the company’s uniforms discriminate against non-binary employees by only providing “male” and “female” uniforms and grooming guidelines. In a letter on behalf of the employee, Justin Wetherell, the ACLU requested that Alaska Airlines adjust its policy for non-binary flight attendants.
“While Justin attends work as a flight-attendant instructor and is not subject to Alaska Airlines’ uniform policy, Justin dresses for work in appropriate business attire, while dressing and grooming in a manner that is neither typically male nor female,” the letter, written by ACLU LGBT Project senior staff attorney Joshua A. Block, says. “But when Justin attends work for shifts as a flight attendant, Alaska Airlines requires Justin to adhere to an inflexible uniform policy that forces employees to conform to rigid gender stereotypes.”
Alaska Airlines’ uniform policy does allow for transgender employees to wear uniforms that conform to their gender identity, and includes different pieces to assemble a uniform outfit. But each set is given the “male” or “female” binary, and employees cannot mix a “female” piece with a “male” outfit, such as a scarf or tie.
Each uniform set comes in different cuts, as well—“female” pieces are “more form-fitting and lower in cut, and therefore more revealing.”
According to the letter, Wetherell requested that the company adjust its uniform regulations, but was told that their requests “are inconsistent with this business purpose,” and that the company “continues to permit employees to dress in a manner that is consistent with their gender identity or expression, while still complying with its uniform policy and grooming standards.”
“By forcing our client and countless other employees to adhere to Alaska Airlines’ preferred vision of how men and women should appear, the uniform policy demeans employees who do not conform to gender stereotypes and materially interferes with their ability to do their jobs under equal terms and conditions as other employees,” the letter says. “For example, when Justin works a shift as a flight attendant and must adhere to the uniform policy, Justin faces constant misgendering. They feel their gender identity and expression aren’t valued or accepted, and as a result feel forced to present as ‘male’ at work.”
The ACLU cited the Washington Law Against Discrimination Act, as well as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as legal precedent. The WLAD states that employers cannot discriminate against any person because of their gender identity, self-image, appearance, behavior or expression when it is different from “that traditionally associated with the sex assigned to that person at birth.”
Block further asserts that Alaska Airlines employees who do not adhere to the company’s “male” or “female” uniform and grooming guidelines “are subject to removal without pay, and eventually termination based on their gender related ‘appearance, behavior or expression.’”
Alaska Airlines responded last week, calling itself “a leader in the industry when it comes to inclusivity in our uniform and grooming standards, which have been informed by our employees and developed in accordance with federal and state laws.”
The company also said that it has given flight attendants more options with their uniform pieces, such as pants and parkas, regardless of their gender assignment, and will make these items available for employees to order online. It also said that it would adjust its grooming guidelines to allow gender-neutral or non-binary employees to wear their hair down when not handling food.
“I truly hope this starts a larger conversation regarding gender identity, gender expression and antiquated stereotypes,” Wetherell said, according to CNN.
Inclusive apparel and gender-neutral designs are becoming much more accepted in the apparel design mainstream. On a retail level, companies like Allbirds have started introducing lines of apparel without adhering to a gender binary, and others have started releasing genderless apparel for children.
As uniform policies also become more open to creativity and expression, expect more companies to offer gender-neutral options that place fewer restrictions and more polarized fits based on gender norms.