Female Airline Pilot’s Sex Bias Case Can Proceed

By Staff Report

Sep. 16, 2011

A federal appellate court said Tuesday, September 8, that a female pilot who alleged sexual discrimination in connection with her termination can proceed with her case.

Tiffany Anne Nicholson, who acknowledged having had an affair with a fellow pilot, said she was allegedly dismissed for her poor communication skills but was not given the same opportunity for retraining given to male pilots who had the same issues, according to the decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Nicholson v. Hyannis Air Service Inc.

According to the decision, Hyannis, Massachusetts-based Hyannis Air Service, a small regional airline, selected Nicholson as one of eight pilots to launch its new service providing flights between Guam and neighboring Micronesian islands. The group included a captain with whom Nicholson had had a yearlong sexual relationship, court papers say.

According to the decision, Nicholson’s supervisors and other pilots reported she “exhibited problems with her communication and cooperation skills,” and she was subsequently terminated. She sued, claiming sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Nicholson claimed the airline’s “actual purpose in disciplining her was to remove an object of sexual competition from its Guam service,” and that she was not “provided the same retraining opportunity provided to the male pilots who failed portions of their training.”

In overturning a lower court ruling granting summary judgment dismissing the case, the three-judge appellate panel ruled the evidence “taken in the light most favorable to Nicholson, is sufficient to raise a genuine issue of material fact as to whether she was qualified and whether similarly situated male pilots were treated favorably.”

Nicholson also “introduced the minimal evidence required to raise a factual issue regarding whether [the airline’s] actions were taken because of her sex,” said the court, which remanded the case for further proceedings.

Filed by Judy Greenwald of Business Insurance, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, e-mail

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