Supreme Court bench of Justices Altamas Kabir and Cyriac Joseph, on November
17, upheld Air India’s 2005 decision to abandon its policy of reserving the
In-flight Supervisor designation to its male cabin crew. An Inflight Supervisor
is the boss-in-charge of all cabin crew on board a flight – i.e. female cabin
crew or Air hostesses, as well as male cabin crew, Flight Pursers. Once on
board the aircraft, all cabin crew, whether Air hostess or Flight Purser, are
under the direct supervision of the Inflight Supervisor.
2005, only men were designated by Air India as Inflight Supervisors. This meant
that male Flight Pursers who were appointed Inflight Supervisors would
supervise the work of all Air hostesses, including those who were many grades
above them and many years senior to them.
December 2005, Air India decided to end this blatantly discriminatory practice,
announced that Inflight Supervisors will be appointed from among both genders,
and designated 10 women Senior Managers (each of
whom had more than 30 years of flying experience), as Inflight
Supervisors. This decision of Air India was challenged by the male Flight Pursers
before the Delhi High Court, claiming that agreements between their union and
Air India preserved the position of Inflight Supervisor only for men, and also
claiming that the Supreme Court of India had recognized this right.
8 October 2007 the Delhi High Court dismissed the Flight Pursers’ petition,
holding that it was unable to discern in any of the agreements between the
union and Air India, any assurance or promise to the male cabin crew that a
female colleague of theirs will never be asked to perform the function of an In
Flight Supervisor. It took note of the irony that although many of the Air
hostesses had trained the flight pursers to perform the functions of Inflight
Supervisor, they were themselves excluded from performing the function. The
High Court held that Air India’s removing of the ‘men only’ tag from the
position of Inflight Supervisor, was in keeping with the mandates of Articles
14 and 15 of the Constitution of India prohibiting discrimination on the
grounds of sex, as well as binding international obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women
(CEDAW). Air India, the high court held, had enabled its female cabin crew to
break the Glass Ceiling and there was nothing unreasonable in male cabin crew
being asked to serve on a flight which had their female colleague as an
Flight Pursers challenged the Delhi High Court judgment before the Supreme
Court, and in November 2007, the Supreme Court directed status quo, which meant
that Air India was unable to implement its decision to bring about equality. By
its judgment Thursday, the Supreme Court dismissed the petitions and upheld the
Delhi High Court’s decision, recognizing Air India’s right to place an employee
in a position where she would be best able to contribute to the Company.
Supreme Court’s confirmation of the Delhi High Court judgment is an important
milestone in the fight against discrimination by Air India’s female employees.
Importantly in the present airline scenario, it is also a matter of sound
business sense that the most experienced and the most capable are placed in
positions of responsibility and that women are not kept from such positions on
account of their gender.