Alaska Airlines Employee Alleges Uniform Policy Discriminates Against Non-Binary Workers

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"Each uniform is made up of several pieces of clothing that flight attendants can choose from, but flight attendants cannot mix and match 'male' uniform pieces and 'female' uniform pieces," according to a letter by the ACLU.

An employee of Alaska Airlines is alleging that the company’s uniform policy discriminates against non-binary and gender non-conforming employees, CNN reported.

In a letter submitted by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the employee says the company’s uniform policy discriminates against those whose gender does not go within the binary “male” and “female” dress code and grooming rules.

In the letter, which was published Friday in an ACLU news release, Justin Wetherell, a flight attendant and flight-attendant instructor based in Seattle, said that when they work as an instructor they are not forced into the company’s dress code and uniform policy however, they claim that changes when they are a flight attendant.

 "I am not forced into Alaska Airlines' 'male' or 'female' uniform policies, neither of which fit me because I am non-binary,” they wrote. “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 ACLU is representing Wetherell and wrote in the letter that “These rigid, binary uniform requirements are more than a mere inconvenience.”

“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 ACLU added.

The letter also said the policy goes beyond clothing and alleges that the uniform policy is a violation of the state's Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD), which prohibits discrimination based on "sex" or "gender identity, self-image, appearance, behavior, or expression."

"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 letter said.

The letter also said that Alaska Airlines employees who “who fail to adhere to Alaska Airlines' standards for 'male' and 'female' dress and grooming are subject to removal without pay and eventually termination based on their gender-related 'appearance, behavior, or expression' in violation of the WLAD's plain terms."

Wetherell reportedly asked for accommodations earlier in the year, according to the letter, but claims they were turned down because the airline said that the uniform and attire helped maintain the company’s branding and to create a consistent image, CNN reported.

In a statement on their website, Alaska Airlines responded to Wetherall’s claims in the ACLU letter after it was published.

“Alaska Airlines has been a longtime supporter of the LGBTQ+ community. We have been 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 statement said. “We are committed to making Alaska a place where everyone feels respected and belongs and proudly celebrate the diversity of our employees this Pride month and all year long.”

The company also said in its statement that “over the past year, we have introduced several new guidelines designed to give our flight attendants more inclusive uniform options. Since early 2020, all flight attendants have been able to order any pant or parka style and have been able to select the uniform kit of their choice, regardless of gender identity.”

The airline said in its statement that starting later this month, it is going to introduce a way to order the uniform items online, saying it is “giving employees greater ease of choice in the uniform selection process.”

The airline also added that it has implemented new gender-neutral hair policies “that will allow all flight attendants to wear their hair down when not handling food, regardless of gender. These are two of the latest policy changes we have made to make Alaska a more inclusive place to work.”

Alaska Airlines concluded that it is “committed to continuing to explore uniform and grooming standards for our flight attendants. We know we cannot do this alone, and appreciate the feedback and partnership we have with our flight attendant community.”

Speaking to CNN following the release of Alaska Airlines statement, Wetherall said that they “truly hope this starts a larger conversation regarding gender identity, gender expression, and antiquated stereotypes.”

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