Mother discriminated against for breastfeeding sues Sun Country Airlines
Airline violated Minnesota Human Rights Act and Minnesota Women’s Economic Security Act by failing to provide nursing employee with appropriate space to pump and store milk — and subjecting her to discriminatory treatment that forced her out of work
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 13, 2023
Gabbi Pierce, Communications Manager
A former employee of Sun Country Airlines today sued the company for violating her rights under the Minnesota Human Rights Act and Minnesota Women’s Economic Security Act after months of harsh discrimination and retaliatory treatment for pumping breast milk on the job forced her out of work just eleven months after giving birth to her second child.
As the airline failed repeatedly to provide an adequate place for plaintiff Hani Ali to pump and store milk to feed her new baby, one coworker leered at her through a window as she pumped and others harassed her over the time she needed for pumping breaks. The airline also denied her opportunities for desirable work assignments specifically because of her need for pumping breaks.
Represented by Gender Justice and Lockridge Grindal Nauen PLLP, Ali is seeking damages for lost wages, emotional distress, and mental anguish — as well as an injunction to ensure that Sun Country and other airlines will not subject other new parents to similar treatment.
“No one should be punished or retaliated against at work for pumping milk to keep their newborn fed,” said Hani Ali.
“The way I was treated as a new mother at work was wrong, and I want to make sure it never happens to anyone else again.”
“Sun Country Airlines responded to a mother’s entirely reasonable requests for a place to pump and store milk for her new baby with a relentless campaign of bullying, discrimination, and retaliation that left her no choice but to leave a job she wanted to keep,” said Sara Jane Baldwin, senior staff attorney for Gender Justice.
“With this lawsuit, we’re putting Sun Country and all employers on notice that Minnesota’s strong protections for women in the workplace will be enforced, and that the reprehensible treatment endured by this new mother will not be tolerated anywhere.”
The lawsuit alleges that Sun Country violated Ali’s rights to be protected from discrimination and reprisal under the Minnesota Women’s Economic Security Act, a package of measures championed by Gender Justice and enacted in 2014 to strengthen workplace protections and flexibility for pregnant and lactating employees, expand employment opportunities for workers in high-wage and high-demand occupations, and reduce the gender pay gap through increased enforcement of equal pay laws. The lawsuit also alleges violations of the Minnesota Human Rights Act’s prohibition against sex discrimination in employment and retaliation against employees who assert their rights under the law.
Ali joined Sun Country’s team at Minneapolis International Airport in September 2021, five months after giving birth to her and her husband’s second child. Although the airline knew when it hired her that she would need a place to pump breast milk, and would require breaks to do so, its poor treatment of Ali began even before her first shift, when supervisors told her there was no designated nursing room and that she should use the baggage claim office — a high-traffic area with large windows on the walls and doors.
Two months later, Ali — a practicing Muslim who needed to remove her hijab and expose her hair and breasts to pump milk — noticed a man staring at her through one of the windows. It was a coworker, and despite her efforts to wave him away, he continued to look at her while she was exposed and actively pumping, demanded that she leave despite her supervisors’ instructions to use the baggage claim room, and then left to bring back a Sun Country manager, who told her to leave and use a public bathroom. The two men then filed a complaint with the company’s human resources department against Ali, and she was told she could no longer enter the baggage claim office for any reason.
This left Ali without a working refrigerator in which to store her breast milk and only one place to go when she needed to pump: a public nursing area inside the terminal, which she could only access by passing through security — an arduous and time-consuming process that added as much as 20 minutes of travel time to her pumping breaks and required security checks of her breast pump and the ice-filled thermos she now needed to carry to keep her milk cool enough to be safe for her baby.
As these forced inconveniences added to the length of Ali’s pumping breaks, her coworkers’ resentment and hostility increased right along with them. Supervisors stopped scheduling her to work inside the terminal — closer to the only place Ali could pump — and, when she asked one of them why, told her specifically that it was because of her pumping. Meanwhile, Ali’s repeated requests for intervention by Sun Country’s human resources team produced no improvements and inadequate communication from the airline’s administration.
Unable to cope with the constant stress of dealing with the bullying of her coworkers, the discrimination of her supervisors, and the inaction of Sun Country’s human resources team, Ali felt forced to leave her position, and resigned in March 2022.
“In Minnesota, nursing and pumping parents have a legal right to be supported and protected against discrimination on the job, and Minnesota employers have a legal responsibility to protect them and provide the basic accommodations they need,” said Baldwin.
“Sun Country’s failure to do so for Hani Ali was egregious. They must correct the injustices that Ms. Ali suffered, and they must not ever be allowed to treat parents this way again.”