Vermont to Review In-Flight Breastfeeding Case

The Vermont Human Rights Commission rejects the airlines' claims that federal regulations top the state's right-to-breastfeed law.

The Vermont Human Rights Commission has rejected a request by Freedom Airlines that the agency dismiss a complaint filed by an EspaƱola, N.M., woman who alleges she was forced off a Freedom flight after refusing to cover herself as she was breastfeeding. The dismissal sets the stage for a full-blown investigation by the Human Rights Commission into the allegations.

Emily Gillette contends that a flight attendant booted her and her family off an Oct. 13, 2006, flight from Burlington, Vt., to New York City after she declined a request to cover herself with a blanket.

In the dismissal request, made by Freedom in December, the airline asserts that "Freedom believes this incident was the result of a mistake by a single Freedom employee, and not the result of any practice followed or approved by Delta or Freedom."

Is also states, however, that any attempt to enforce the breastfeeding provision of the Vermont Fair Housing and Accommodations Act "amounts to an attempt to regulate the services provided by Freedom" and is a pre-emption of the Federal Airlines Deregulation Act. This act says that "no state ... shall enact or enforce a law, rule, regulation, standard or other provision having the force and effect of law relating to price, route or service of an air carried," Freedom's motion states.

"The events described by Ms. Gillette are undoubtedly related to the 'services' provided by Freedom and the attempt to enforce the VFAA on Freedom in this context is an attempt to regulate those services provided by Freedom in a manner contrary to the ADA," the motion further states.

The Human Rights Commission, in its response to Freedom, said that Vermont's breastfeeding protection law did not preempt federal regulations.

"Services" involves things such as baggage handling and boarding procedures - not breastfeeding, said Elizabeth Boepple, Gillette's attorney.

"It (the ADA) is not meant to protect you from tort claims," she said.

"They (Freedom) really don't connect the dots, and, quite frankly, it's an absurd argument," she said.

Robert Appel, executive director of the Vermont Human Rights Commission, declined to comment on the issue.

Representatives at Freedom Airlines and its holding company, Phoenix-based Mesa Air Group, could not be reached for comment.

Delta Airlines, which contracts with Freedom and is a party in Gillette's complaint, has also made a request for dismissal. The Human Rights Commission has not released its response to that airline, however.

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