A young mother settled into an open chair in a public bathroom at a Nordstrom Rack in Utah to nurse her month-old daughter. While it was Ana Davis’s right to nurse her child anywhere in the store, she chose this relatively private lounging spot. Nevertheless, a customer complained about Davis breastfeeding in the bathroom, and a Nordstrom employee asked Davis to move to a fitting room.
Baffled and embarrassed after the incident, Davis and her husband reached out to Nordstrom. A store spokesperson issued a statement about how all nursing mothers should feel comfortable and store employees should never ask a nursing mom to move. Davis has not sued – yet – but plenty of other mothers (and fathers) have turned breastfeeding barriers into legal battles.
If men could breastfeed
Angela Ames filed a discrimination suit against her former employee, Nationwide Insurance, in 2012. The suit alleged that Ames was bullied into resigning because she encountered so many obstacles to pumping breast milk at work, including being denied access to the on-site lactation room because she hadn’t filled out the necessary paperwork. Appealing to her department head, Ames was presented with a resignation letter and told to “Just go home to your babies.”
The federal court that heard Ames’ original lawsuit ruled against her discrimination claim. Their reasoning: She could have fought harder to keep her job. As a double blow, in 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case, thus upholding the ruling of a federal appeals court which, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), said that, “Even if Angela had been fired because she was breastfeeding, that was not sex discrimination, in part because men can lactate under certain circumstances.”
Yes, male breasts have milk ducts, some mammary tissue, and the hormones needed for milk production. But you can be sure that the day a man surrenders his body to breastfeed a child, he will be placed on a pedestal for this selfless act, rather than pushed into hiding.
99 problems and a breast is one
Rapper Jay-Z owns a streaming music service called Tidal. A lawsuit was filed against the company in November 2016 by a former employee who is claiming she was denied a private room to pump breast milk and subsequently fired.
Lisette Paulson filed the suit against Tidal, alleging that her civil rights were violated when she was told to use the bathroom to pump. Paulson is suing for sex and pregnancy discrimination after being fired just one day after requesting a private room for pumping.
She sued, then he sued
As Avvo Stories previously recounted, Stephanie Hicks left her job as an officer in the Tuscaloosa Police Department in 2012 and later successfully sued the city for subjecting her to an intolerable work environment and refusing to accommodate her breastfeeding needs. The city has appealed the decision, but there’s more: Hicks’ husband, William Hicks, filed his own discrimination lawsuit in 2016.
Once a police officer with the same police department, Hicks claims he was forced to quit his job because the work environment deteriorated before and during his wife’s trial. He was passed over for promotions and suddenly encountered disciplinary actions after 10 years of a clean slate and exceptional performance reviews. He was even written up for incorrectly filing a grievance about being disciplined three times for the same non-offense.
Hicks is seeking damages related to, among other things, mental distress, lost wages, loss of benefits, and loss of career as a consequence of the defendants’ unlawful conduct. Stephanie Hicks worries that her family could be doing the wrong thing by filing another lawsuit, but they are forging ahead, telling AL.com, “It’s going to happen to somebody else someday. I’m not the only woman who’s ever going to want to be a police officer and breastfeed.”
The ACLU filed a lawsuit against the Ocean Community YMCA in Rhode Island on behalf of Elizabeth Gooding, a mother and former part-time YMCA employee and member who claims she was told by fellow employees that she could not breastfeed in public areas at the YMCA.
This YMCA branch asserts they took “affirmative steps” and created a private area for breastfeeding employees in response to Gooding’s complaint, educating staff on the new policy. Though the incident took place in 2015, and the YMCA says they addressed the problem at the time to be compliant with federal and state laws, Gooding chose to pursue a lawsuit, filing in May 2017.
Brief but fiery
Leigh Anne O’Connor, a lactation consultant, answered emails and Facebook messages over several weeks for a new mom who needed breastfeeding support. “I invited her to drop in to my breastfeeding support group. While not unheard of, it was unusual that her baby’s father wanted to come to the group,” said O’Connor. It might seem that this father’s interest in his child’s nourishment was commendable, but this situation was different.
The baby’s mother and father were not married, and they had different ideas about parenting. When the pair split, the question of child custody became more complicated than simply assigning parenting time. “The mom was interested in breastfeeding, but the father wanted more controlled feedings of the baby,” says O’Connor.
After a drama-filled process, which included the father alleging that the mother hit him and having her taken into custody by the police, O’Connor was contacted to testify as an expert witness on behalf of the baby in the custody battle. “The concerns were that the baby be able to breastfeed and not do overnights with the father until he was older. I was representing the baby’s best interests and offered evidence about the importance of being with the mom. The baby was under 12 weeks of age,” says O’Connor. “The decision was made to keep baby and mom together as much as possible and limit time with the father to short visits a few times a week.”
Crazy laws that exist in America about breastfeeding
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires most large employers to provide nursing mothers with the space and time to pump breast milk at work. Most insurance plans also cover lactation support products and services under the ACA. However, there are always exceptions to the rule, and some of the following laws fall into the “weird” category:
- Keep nursing out of the courtroom: Idaho is the only state where there is no law explicitly saying women can breastfeed in public. But Idaho is less unique when it comes to statutes regarding breastfeeding jurors; it’s one of 17 states that postpones or exempts nursing mothers from jury duty.
- Not at your BFF’s house: In California, breastfeeding is permitted in any public location “except the private home or residence of another.”
- Breastfeeding, it’s a crime: The indecency laws in 21 states do not specifically exempt breastfeeding, so being ticketed for lewd conduct or public indecency is always a possibility when nursing baby.
Breastfeeding norms in the rest of the world
If you had to choose a new home in another nation that is kind to breastfeeding moms, you might want to consider:
- Australia: In May, an Australian senator became the first politician to breastfeed on the Parliament senate floor. Also in Australia, a café owner stood up for a nursing mom, kicking out another customer who complained and became confrontational about the breastfeeding.
- Rome: Pope Francis implored the mothers in his congregation to nurse their hungry babies during mass in the Sistine Chapel.
- New Zealand: Out at a café for the first time alone with her eight-week-old son, a mother had to put her breakfast on pause to nurse him. An elderly woman came over while she was nursing and cut the new mother’s food for her so she could eat before it got cold.
- Norway: Public breastfeeding is the norm in Norway, where 99 percent of new moms initiate breastfeeding at the hospital. Plus, the country has generous parental leave (49 weeks at full pay!) and allows two-hour breaks at home or the office to nurse or pump.
- Morocco: Breastfeeding is considered relatively mundane in Morocco where breasts are not particularly sexualized, rather considered primarily for feeding children. Breastfeeding is done openly and on demand.
There has been an 800 percent increase in breastfeeding-related discrimination lawsuits over the past 10 years, according to the Center for WorkLife Law at UC Hastings College of the Law. Mothers have had negative nursing experiences in church, school, and on airplanes. They have sued hospitals for malpractice and been prevented from suing hospitals. They have been harassed by law enforcement. Nursing a child is not an easy job. The United States would be a better place if mothers who breastfeed could have a little more support in public, on the job, and even at home.