FAA Dress Code a Ticket to Trouble up in the Towers

CLEVELAND An air-traffic controller in Oberlin, Ohio, was reprimanded because his aquamarine pants were "not gender-appropriate."

The dressing down came after the Federal Aviation Administration imposed a dress code for controllers, and the two sides have now added a fashion fight to their already-strained relationship. A few male controllers at another facility protested the crackdown by coming to work in dresses. Another wore an all-purple outfit save for white pants with purple snakeskin shoes.

"In light of all the problems facing controllers and the FAA, it seems silly that the agency has become the fashion police," said Melissa Ott, union spokeswoman for workers at the Cleveland Air Route Control Center in Oberlin.

FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said the agency wants controllers to dress professionally. She said the union is overreacting to a simple dress code that would not raise an eyebrow in the business community.

Ott said the case of the veteran controller admonished about the color of his pants was just one of several incidents nationwide:

? A New York controller was ordered to wear dress shoes, despite a doctor's note saying she needed to wear tennis shoes because of a knee problem. She fell, broke her elbow and injured her knee.

? A controller in Oakland, Calif., was sent home to change because his pants were "too wrinkled."

? In Miami, controllers were told they could no longer wear "tropical shirts," even though they have collars. Management later changed its mind and said tropical shirts with "muted colors" were permitted.

? In Maryland, a supervisor shined a flashlight up and down a controller's pants. The supervisor said the pants had "jeans-like seams" and the controller could not wear them anymore.

Another Oberlin controller was disciplined because he wore an orange shirt that a supervisor said "looked like a highway traffic cone."

The man in the aquamarine pants was warned he would be disciplined further if he wore them again.

"He was angry. He said they were questioning his sexuality because of his pants," Ott said. "And aren't there laws against discriminating against someone because of sexual orientation anyway? Does that mean a woman can't wear brown because it's a `guy' color?"

She noted that controllers work in a dark room in a secure building, far from the public. It's rare that members of the public ever get into the building and even more rare that they would get into the area where the controllers work.

"So, who are we dressing up for?" Ott asked.

The FAA wouldn't discuss specific dress-code violations. The code was part of the new rules imposed in September after contract negotiations broke down last summer. Since that breakdown, the FAA is enforcing things such as dress codes and a ban on all radios including weather radios that warn of tornadoes in towers.

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