Employees at a California-based company have alleged in a class action lawsuit that the company discriminates against nursing mothers. According to the lawsuit, although state law protects the rights of breastfeeding mothers, they are not allowed breaks and are laughed at when they request them.
This is one of several lawsuits and many allegations of discrimination that employees have raised related to breastfeeding. A jury in Delaware awarded a mother $1.5 million after harassment at work prevented her from pumping and caused her supply to dry up. Breastfeeding women are supposed to be protected under several different laws, including the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and state and local laws, but in practice, this is not always the case.
An advocacy group called [email protected] conducted a study and found that discrimination against lactating women was not uncommon. Among the allegations were that employees were not provided with private areas to pump, were fired for requesting permission to pump, were denied breaks despite being in pain and leaking, and were harassed, including comments comparing them to animals or commenting on their breasts. Many women faced economic penalties or termination for their involvement in discrimination cases. This leaves many women forced to choose between working to support their children or providing them with the health benefits of breast milk.
Employers should be aware of the rights of pregnant and breastfeeding employees so they can avoid discrimination, and employees may want to be aware so they can protect themselves. An employee who is dealing with pregnancy discrimination or discrimination related to breastfeeding at work may want to consult an attorney about how to proceed. While trying to go through workplace channels before seeking further legal action is often the best approach, this may be more successful for employees who understand their rights.