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Sonia Pressman Fuentes


Air Line Women See Job Discrimination

[Chicago Tribune Press Service]

Washington, July 22 - A government agency born to a life of trouble and woe soon will tackle anew a couple of loaded questions.

They deal with the delicate matter of sex.

The latter-day suffragettes are zeroing in. So are those who defend the rights of men. Some of the nation's air lines will have a few thousand words to say.


But even more vital to the face lift and hair dye set are the implications behind this question: Does the bloom of youth and attractiveness fade beyond recall for women over 32?

No one needs a poll taker to realize the whole thing is as tangled as a kitten with a ball of yarn.

The agency is the Equal Employment Opportunity commission. Its mission is to enforce a provision of the 1964 civil rights act that says it is unlawful to discriminate in employment on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, or national origin.


In its two tumultuous years of existence, in which it has had two chairmen and a third appointed but not yet confirmed, about one- third of the 18,000 complaints filed with the commission have dealt with alleged discrimi- nations on the basis of sex.

On Sept. 12, the commission will hold its first public hearings on its most publicized case - sex in the skies. Until a few days ago, the hearing had been scheduled for Aug. 8.

It all began in November, 1965, when the first of 136 charges alleging discrimination and involving airline stewardesses, stewards, and pursers began to flow in. At least one came from a man who wanted to be a stew- ard but claimed he didn't get the job because the air line wanted only stewardesses.

The problem really is a double one.


First is whether sex is a bona fide occupational qualification for the job of aircraft cabin attendant says Miss Sonia Pressman, senior attorney in the commission's general counsel's office. In other words, is a man who wants to be a steward suffering job discrimination if an air line hires only women?

The second problem involves age and marriage requirements of some air lines. Under the 1964 civil rights act, can the lines require that stewardesses be grounded at a mandatory age such as 32, and can they also take away their wings when they wed?

There's a neat corollary to this, too. If a line employs both stewards, or male pursers, and stewardesses and female pursers, does it also ground the men at a mandatory age such as 32 and when they marry?


In May, 1966, the commission held an executive session hearing. It is prohibited by law to give the names of air lines which have been charged in complaints. But a number of lines were represented at the hearing. The Air Transport association [ A.T.A. ] was on hand.

So was the Air Line Stewards and Stewardesses association of the Transport Workers union, AFL-CIO, that represents 13,000 cabin attendants employed by eight lines. The Air Lines Pilots association, AFL-CIO, which has stewardess members,

An A.T.A. spokesman said that at the end of 1965, there were about 17,322 cabin attendants on 39 scheduled United States air lines. About 5 per cent were men. He says about the same percentage of men held for last year when the total had grown to 20,925.


Six months after the May hearings, the commission said it had made up its mind and would prepare an opinion.

But that same month - last November - according to Miss Pressman, the A.T.A. and some air lines went into court here. Last February they got a preliminary injunction preventing the commission from issuing its decision. The bone of contention was a com- missioner - since resigned - who, the airlines maintained, shouldn't have voted on the issue.

The commission decided to make a new stab at it last April. But the A.T.A. and the air lines, Miss Pressman said, returned to court. In May the court said the commission couldn't make a new decision without holding new hearings and compiling a new record.

That's what they're going to try to do Sept. 12.

CHICAGO TRIBUNE   JULY 23, 1967   P 18  C 1 ***************************************