Sunday, August 6, 2017
Sex Discrimination in the Airline Industry Revisited 47 Years Later: Air India's 30 Year Old Anna Divya is the World's Youngest Boeing 777 Pilot
I smile when I see female pilots walking through airports. I don’t smile as often as I would like because they are still a rarity. Anna Divya, a 30 year old pilot for Air India, is now the youngest pilot, pilot – not co-pilot, pilot – not flight engineer, pilot – not flight attendant, of a Boeing 777. She has a large smile on her face. She accomplished her childhood dream of becoming a pilot. But why do I smile? It goes back to the summer of 1969. I was hired as a legal clerk for the 2 man firm of Darwin & Riordan in San Francisco. Jay Darwin was a pioneering labor law attorney going back to the days of the New Deal. One of the firm’s clients was Jan Dietrich (1926-2008), a well-qualified woman pilot. Jan and her twin sister Marion were among the group of 13 women, the Gemini 13, privately financed to complete the same tests as NASA’s Gemini 7 astronauts. The odds are that NASA never expected at that time that any of these women would be flown into space, but it was good publicity. Jan sought employment with Oakland based Word Airways, a charter operation. World denied Jan a position despite her qualifications because she was a woman. The airline told Jan the public wants pilots to be “tall, gray-haired men.” Unfortunately for World Airways, Congress had enacted title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII forbad discrimination in employment based on sex, race, color, religion or national origin. The southern Senators tossed “sex” into the statute, hoping it would cause defeat of the bill aimed at racial discrimination in employment. They miscalculated. The bar on sex discrimination in employment is highly popular. The case settled on the courthouse steps with Jan flying for World Airways. My assignment was to do substantial research on the case. The research also led to a Labor Law Seminar paper my last semester in Law school. One of the sources of information for the paper in spring 1970 was the Soviet Embassy in Washington. I knew women pilots flew for Aeroflot and the Russian military. The embassy responded to my request with some published material, which I could quote. I don’t have any of the legal file on the case, but I also remember an affidavit by a retired brigadier general. He wrote women could not be relied upon in flying commercial airlines because once a month …. You get the drift. Far more pervasive and pernicious than the airline bans on woman pilots were their restrictions on stewardesses, and stewards, all now called flight attendants. Many of the domestic airlines were marketing glamorous young, single female stewardesses as the reason to fly their airline. “We really move our tail for you” was one such slogan for Continental Airlines. Another was “I’m Jo, Fly me” for National Airlines. Braniff Airlines promoted the designer dresses of their stewardesses. Here’s a quick summary of the restrictions: No male stewards, except on international flights. All stewardesses must retire at age 35. Stewardesses could not be married or marry. Pregnancy was verboten. Delta Airlines was an exception. Its stewardesses could make a career of flying for Delta. The flight attendant unions fought the restrictions and with the new Title VII behind them ultimately defeated them. My seminar paper was accepted for publication by the law review at the University of California Berkeley. The cite is “Sex Discrimination in the Airline Industry: Title VII Flying High,” 59 Cal. L. Rev. 1091 (1971). The article begins: “Women have historically been relegated to a secondary role in life. Contemporary experience suggests that they may become legal secretaries, but rarely lawyers, secondary school teachers, but rarely university professors, airline stewardesses, but never pilots. The purpose of this article is to argue, based on examples of sexual discrimination in the airline industry, that society can and must change these existing patterns of unequal employment opportunities.” I am still proud of the wording of this intro. Ironically, the section on female pilots was edited out because of the length of the article. If any of the few readers of this blog are interested, I can send them an earlier draft of the article. Anna Divya, I salute you and Air India.