State agency says Alaska Airlines' uniform policy is discriminatory

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Alaska Airlines has made changes to its uniform policy this year.
Alaska Airlines has made changes to its uniform policy this year. Photo Credit: Alaska Airlines

The Washington State Human Rights Commission has found reasonable cause to conclude that Alaska Airlines' flight attendant uniform policy is discriminatory against employees who identify as nonbinary.

Justin Wetherell filed a complaint against the carrier in December 2020, arguing that Alaska's policy requiring flight attendants to make a choice between male and female uniforms is discriminatory. Though Alaska allows employees choose whichever uniform they like, individuals wearing the uniforms are required to comply with gender-specific appearance requirements.

For example, at the time the complaint was filed, flight attendants wearing the men's uniform could only wear one small earring per ear, while flight attendants in the women's uniform could wear up to two larger earrings per ear. 

As a person identifying as nonbinary, Wetherell isn't comfortable with dressing in a manner that conforms with either of the two uniform standards, the flight attendant argued in the complaint. 

In a reasonable-cause finding, the Human Rights Commission agreed with Wetherell's position. 

"The evidence in this investigation supports that complainant was subjected to the adverse employment action of being required to dress and groom in a manner that is not consistent with their gender identity and gender expression," reads the finding, which cites Washington state law. "Complainant was treated less favorably than flight attendants not of their same protected class because male and female employees had uniform kits specifically designed for them and their gender identities."

Alaska has made changes to its uniform policy while Wetherell's case has been underway. In March, the carrier announced more permissive policies, including allowing flight attendants and other forward-facing employees, no matter which clothing items they choose, to wear fingernail polish, makeup, two earrings per ear and a single stud nose piercing. The carrier also changed its grooming policies to allow more hairstyle options.

Alaska also says it is in the process of developing gender-neutral uniform pieces. 

"Alaska Airlines has been a longtime supporter of the LGBTQ+ community," the carrier said in a statement. "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. We are committed to making Alaska a place where everyone feels respected and belongs and proudly celebrate the diversity of our employees."

The Washington State Human Rights Commission said Alaska's changes weren't comprehensive enough. The finding notes that Alaska still prohibits individuals wearing feminine uniform pieces such as scarves and skirts from having facial hair. Wetherell, who has facial hair, therefore must wear the men's uniform pieces, now formally called "masculine" pieces by the carrier, even though the flight attendant prefers to wear the feminine pieces.

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