The union that represents more than 27,000 American Airlines flight attendants has filed a charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleging that the airline's attendance policy discriminates against women. The flight attendants charge that the attendance policy "fast tracks" flight attendants — a group that is 75% female — to potential discipline and discharge actions, while pilots — who are overwhelmingly male — are not subject to the policy.
This type of case is called a “disparate impact” case. Employment actions and policies can be problematic even if they do not intentionally discriminate against a protected group of workers. The law recognizes both "disparate treatment" discrimination (intentional acts of overt discrimination) and "disparate impact" discrimination (neutral policies and practices that have a disproportionate, adverse impact on a protected group and that cannot be justified by business necessity).
While disparate impact cases can come up with regard to any protected class (in this case, gender) they actually most often arise in the context of alleged age-based discrimination. Layoffs are often alleged to be based on age — a layoff targeting high-earning employees might have a disproportionate impact on long-tenured employees who happen to be older, for example. Similarly, recruiting efforts that focus on college campuses might unfairly exclude older workers.