Published November 14, 2006
BURLINGTON, Vermont – A woman has complained that she was kicked off an airplane about to leave Burlington airport because she was breast-feeding her baby.
A complaint against two airlines was filed with the Vermont Human Rights Commission, although Executive Director Robert Appel said he was barred by state law from confirming the complaint. He did say state law allows a mother to breast-feed in public.
Elizabeth Boepple, a lawyer hired by 27-year-old mother Emily Gillette, confirmed that Gillette filed the complaint late last week against Delta Air Lines and Freedom Airlines. Freedom was operating the Delta commuter flight between Burlington and New York City.
A Freedom spokesman said Gillette was asked to leave the flight after she declined a flight attendant's offer of a blanket.
"A breast-feeding mother is perfectly acceptable on an aircraft, providing she is feeding the child in a discreet way," that does not bother others, said Paul Skellon, spokesman for Phoenix-based Freedom. "She was asked to use a blanket just to provide a little more discretion, she was given a blanket, and she refused to use it, and that's all I know."
Gillette, her husband Brad and their daughter River, who live in New Mexico, had been visiting relatives in Vermont. Their flight was three hours late but appeared to be preparing for takeoff Oct. 13 when Gillette decided to breast-feed her 22-month-old, she said.
Gillette said she was being discreet. She was seated by the window in the second-to-last row, her husband was seated between her and the aisle and no part of her breast was showing, she said.
A flight attendant approached, tried to hand her a blanket and told her to cover up, Gillette said. She said she had a legal right to breast-feed her baby.
Moments later, a Delta ticket agent approached and said the flight attendant had asked that the family be removed from the flight, Gillette said. She said she did not want to make a scene and complied.
"It embarrassed me. That was my first reaction, which is a weird reaction for doing something so good for a child. And then helpless," Gillette said.
The Vermont Human Rights Commission investigates complaints and determines whether discrimination may have occurred. The parties to a complaint are given six months to reach a settlement. If none is reached, the commission then decides whether to go to court. A complainant can file a separate suit in state court at any time.