PORTLAND, Maine — Lambert Coffin, the Portland law firm with a local office in Blue Hill, representing Emily Gillette in an internationally recognized case against Delta/Freedom airlines, announces it has reached a settlement with the airlines.
Emily’s lengthy legal battle began on the night of Oct. 13, 2006 at 9:40 p.m., as she was discreetly nursing her toddler, River, on board a Delta/Freedom flight leaving Burlington, Vermont bound for New York. The flight attendant approached Emily, who was sitting toward the rear of the plane in a window seat with her husband in the aisle, thrust an airline blanket at her, and told her to cover up. After politely refusing the blanket, the flight attendant demanded that Emily cover her child’s head stating, “You are offending me.” Emily again politely refused. The flight attendant then directed a customer service representative to board the plane and have Emily removed. Neither the pilot nor the co-pilot intervened as Emily and her husband exited the plane in tears, with her child in her arms.
Ms. Gillette filed a complaint with the Vermont Human Rights Commission (VHRC) seeking a finding that the airlines violated Emily’s rights under a Vermont statute that protects a women’s right to breastfeed in public. When Ms. Gillette filed her complaint, the story was picked up by the media world-wide. The story outraged breastfeeding mothers, sparking the first national nurse-in at Delta ticket counters across the US.
The VHRC’s investigation into the incident resulted in a finding of reasonable grounds to believe that Mesa Air Group and Freedom Airlines discriminated against Emily. The VHRC did not address Delta’s liability on theories of agency. No resolution was reached with the airlines after this finding. As a result, Emily and the VHRC filed suit against the Airlines. VHRC against Mesa and Freedom, Emily against Mesa, Freedom and Delta. The case has now finally settled.
“I am relieved this long ordeal is now over, but hope that the outcome is much more than a story about one case of discrimination. I hope my experience and how I was treated helps raise awareness of this important health benefit for children and nursing mothers,” said Emily Gillette when asked what her reaction is to the settlement.
Emily’s attorney, Elizabeth Boepple stated, “The ongoing discrimination suffered by breastfeeding mothers nationwide illustrates the continuing relevance of Emily’s story. Incidents of discrimination against public breastfeeding – in Target stores, restaurants, sports stadiums, and in one recent incident, a pastor calling a nursing mother “a stripper” because she was nursing her baby in church – reinforce the need to make people aware that this legal right exists in many, many states and where it doesn’t, it should. The settlement demonstrates that providing rights to mothers, as Vermont did, can create positive results and that such legal protections are crucial. But, as Emily’s story also shows, existence of such legal rights is not enough in the absence of education and societal support. ”
Robert Appel, Executive Director of The Vermont Human Rights Commission stated, “The Vermont Human Rights Commission is gratified that the airlines have finally acknowledged that, in compliance with state law, a mother is entitled to breastfeed her child while using the airlines’ services. As the Vermont Legislature has declared, there is nothing obscene or offensive about a mother providing her nursing child with the best possible nutrition that nature can provide.”
For more information, call Elizabeth Boepple 370-3013.