A years-long legal battle by a non-binary flight attendant has resulted in Alaska Airlines being ordered to ditch traditional male and female uniform rules.
The order came in the form of a consent decree between the Washington state attorney general’s office and Alaska Airlines following an investigation into the Seattle-based carrier’s uniform and grooming rules.
The lawsuit was brought by Justin Wetherell, a long-serving flight attendant who also works as a crew instructor for Alaska, who complained that the airline’s rules discriminated against staff who identified themselves as non-binary.
Last September, an investigation by the Washington State Human Rights Commission concluded that Alaska Airlines had indeed discriminated against Wetherell on the basis of gender identity and gender expression.
Wetherell started his campaign when Alaska Airlines rolled out a brand-new uniform in 2019. When the airline introduced the new look, it also introduced new uniform and grooming rules which included forcing flight attendants to choose between a ‘male’ uniform or a ‘female’ uniform.
Following an intervention from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the airline made some major changes to its uniform policy in March 2022, but managers still insisted that staffers comply with standards based on either a ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ look.
For example, employees with facial hair weren’t allowed to wear ‘female’ garments, and someone wearing the ‘male’ uniform was barred from wearing tinted lip gloss or certain shades of lipstick.
The consent decree means that Alaska Airlines will now drop these rules, and the airline has also agreed to provide additional equality training to employees.
“This took far more time than I expected and had a severe negative impact on my mental and emotional health. However, I would do it again in a heartbeat,” Wetherell said after the consent decree was announced.
“This is the right thing for me, for Alaska Airlines, and for many other non-binary, transgender and gender non-conforming people. This victory sets the groundwork for other similarly affected individuals to have an easier time fixing discriminatory policies,” Wetherell continued.
Alaska Airlines has also been ordered to pay $70,000 to Wetherell and $40,000 to the ACLU to cover legal fees.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.