Vt. Panel Hears Air Breast-Feeding Case

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) -- The Vermont Human Rights Commission ruled there are grounds to believe Freedom Airlines discriminated against a woman ordered off a plane after refusing to cover up while breast-feeding her child.

The full commission heard the case Thursday. The proceedings were not open to the public, but its decision was released afterward.

The panel found grounds to believe that Freedom Airlines, a subsidiary of Mesa Air Group, Inc., "violated Vermont's prohibition against discrimination against women breast feeding in places of public accommodation," said Commission Executive Director Robert Appel.

A spokesman for Mesa did not return two phone calls or an e-mail seeking comment.

The commission is not a court and its ruling is an administrative decision, Appel said. The commission will now work with the mother, Emily Gillette, and Freedom to try to negotiate a settlement. If that fails, a lawsuit could be filed by the commission or Gillette.

Gillette, of Santa Fe, N.M., was in Vermont for the first time since the incident to appear before the commission.

"I feel like it's really important for us to show up as a sign of gratitude for everything the state has done to uphold its laws, and to show up for the commission, who have put so much time and effort into investigating this case," she said.

On Oct. 13, 2006, Gillette, her husband and their then 22-month-old daughter, River, were headed to New York. While waiting at the gate to take off, Gillette, seated next to the window in the next to last row, began to breast feed her child.

She says a flight attendant handed her a blanket and told her to cover up. She refused. A short time later they were removed from the plane.

Mesa operates flights for Delta Airlines. The incident sparked a series of "nurse-in" protests at Delta airlines ticket counters across the country. Delta was not involved in Thursday's hearing.

"Delta fully supports a mother's right to breast-feed her children on board our aircraft," said Delta Spokesman Anthony Black.


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