Aer Lingus ordered to stop requiring women staff to wear heels when not on aircraft

Dress code requirement amounted to ‘unfavourable treatment’ on grounds of gender, says Labour Court

Aer Lingus aircraft, operated by Aer Lingus Group Plc, pass each other at Dublin Airport in Dublin, Ireland, on Thursday, June 9, 2011. Aer Lingus Group Plc's total booked passenger numbers rose 4 percent to 911,000 in May from the year earlier. Photographer: Aidan Crawley/Bloomberg

Aer Lingus has been ordered to cease requiring women staff to wear medium or high-heeled shoes when not on board aircraft.

Making the direction in a recent ruling, the Labour Court said the dress code requirement amounted to “unfavourable treatment” on grounds of gender.

The court ordered Aer Lingus to cease the practice, if it has not already done so, and awarded €6,000 to cabin crew manager Elizabeth Barry, who had appealed against the Workplace Relations Commissions’ (WRC’s) dismissal of her discrimination claim.

In a statement to The Irish Times on Sunday, an Aer Lingus spokesman said the airline “notes the decision”.


“The company had already changed its policy in relation to footwear prior to the decision,” he added.

Ms Barry’s counsel, Leonora Frawley, instructed by KOD Lyons solicitors, argued in the Labour Court that the new Aer Lingus uniform for women cabin crew is less practical and comfortable than the male equivalent and portrays an “outdated image” of women.

The uniform for some 3,000 cabin crew and ground staff was created by Irish designer Louise Kennedy and launched in January 2020.

Giving the Labour Court’s decision, Louise O’Donnell said Aer Lingus “could offer no basis for requiring female members of staff to wear high/medium heels prior to boarding and when departing the aircraft”.

Women staff were provided with flat shoes to wear while on board aircraft, but they needed to carry an up-to-date medical certificate if they wished to wear flat shoes while in uniform off the planes, she said.

Given it was accepted there was “no functional basis” for the requirement for heels on land, Ms O’Donnell found it “does unreasonably bear more heavily on female staff and is therefore discriminatory”.

She upheld Ms Barry’s appeal and set aside the WRC’s dismissal.

Ms Barry’s various other complaints about the women’s dress code, were dismissed by the court.

These include the design of the women’s blouse and jacket, the requirement to wear pop socks, and the provision of handbags for women instead of “more practical” satchels, which the male staff receive.

Ms O’Donnell noted Ms Barry was provided with a satchel after she requested one, while the other dress code elements, when considered as part of the whole uniform, “do not bear unreasonably more heavily on females than their male counterparts”.

Aer Lingus denied all of the claims and submitted to the court that Ms Barry may not like aspects of the uniform but this dislike cannot be elevated to a discrimination claim.

An operations manager with the airline said the company ran a trial of the new uniform and received feedback. There were no issues about practicality or the shoe height, which was comparable to footwear for previous uniforms, the manager submitted.

The court heard some staff have requested to wear the uniform geared towards the opposite sex. This can be facilitated once they wear the complete ensemble, as the male and female elements are not designed to be interchangeable.

A WRC adjudicating officer last December dismissed Ms Barry’s discrimination case after concluding the complaint was “not well-founded”.

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan is an Irish Times reporter