ABC News recently reported on Texas mom, Donnicia Venters, who was fired from her job at a debt collection agency in 2010 after requesting time to use the bathroom to pump at work. Ms. Venters sued her employer for discrimination under title VII of the Civil Rights Act, but the judge ruled against her stating, “lactation is not a pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition.”
While the argument that breastfeeding is somehow unrelated to childbirth might seem absurd to anyone with a basic understanding of human biology, unfortunately this case is not unique. In 2009, Ohio courts ruled against LaNisa Allen, who was terminated from her position at Totes/Isotoner for “insubordination” after taking unscheduled restroom breaks to pump. According to the ruling:
[Women] who give birth and choose not to breastfeed or pump their breasts do not continue to lactate for five months. Thus, Allen’s condition of lactating was not a condition relating to pregnancy but rather a condition related to breastfeeding. Breastfeeding discrimination does not constitute gender discrimination.
Breastfeeding discrimination does not constitute gender discrimination. Think about that for a second. Right now, the United States offers no federal protection for breastfeeding and pumping moms in the workplace.
What about the Fair Labor Standards Act?
In 2010, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was amended to provide non-exempt employees with reasonable break times and a private, non-bathroom space in which to express milk. Unfortunately FLSA does not apply to most salaried employees so millions of teachers, executives and non-hourly workers do not receive any protection under the law. Furthermore, the law does not protect against workplace discrimination nor does it include an enforcement provision, so it’s unclear how or if an employer would be penalized for failing to comply. Attorney Jake Aryeh Marcus has written more about the shortcomings of the workplace pumping provision at Sustainable Mothering.
Last year, Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley and House Representative Carolyn B. Maloney introduced the Breastfeeding Promotion Act of 2011(H.R. 2758, S. 1463). This legislation would protect breastfeeding moms by:
- Protecting Breastfeeding under Civil Rights Law ensuring women cannot be fired or discriminated against in the workplace for expressing milk or breastfeeding during lunch or breaks.
- Expanding the Breastfeeding Provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act to Cover Salaried Office Workers: The expansion would cover an additional approximate 13.5 million executive, administrative, and professional women in the workplace.
Right now this bill is still in the initial steps of the legislative process (you can check status here), so there’s still time to ask your Representative and Senators to support the Breastfeeding Promotion Act and stop breastfeeding discrimination in the workplace. The US Breastfeeding Committee has written a sample letter that makes it really easy for you to contact your Members of Congress.
For more information about breastfeeding rights in the United States, visit www.breastfeedinglaw.com.