Siegal & RichardsonLLP

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Breastfeeding discrimination is common despite legal protections

In 2010, Congress amended the Fair Labor Standards Act to include workplace protections for breastfeeding mothers, and California law extends these protections. However, workers including farmers, registered nurses and kindergarten teachers are not covered by the federal law, and a recent study suggests that even breastfeeding mothers who are covered are routinely treated unfairly by both private and public sector employers. One of the cases reviewed by researchers involved a police officer who was denied a temporary desk assignment when she was unable to wear a protective vest.

After studying thee outcomes of breastfeeding discrimination lawsuits filed over the last 10 years, the researchers found that the employee involved lost their job about two-thirds of the time. The study suggests that the problem is especially pronounced in male-dominated industries. While only 16 percent of female workers are employed in such industries, they account for 43 percent of breastfeeding discrimination cases.

This can have health as well as financial repercussions for breastfeeding mothers. Researchers found that discriminatory practices such as not providing breastfeeding mothers with a private area to pump breast milk or subjecting them to lewd comments often prompted them to wean earlier than doctors recommend and made them more prone to painful and potentially serious infections.

Attorneys with experience in labor and employment law may encourage breastfeeding workers who are being treated unfairly to gather as much evidence of discrimination as possible before taking legal action. This is because being well prepared improves the chances of a successful outcome in court and also makes a negotiated settlement more likely. Evidence that could support a breastfeeding discrimination claim includes company policies that do not meet requirements laid down by state or federal law, photographs of inadequate or unsanitary milk pumping facilities and emails or other corporate communications that demean or belittle breastfeeding employees.

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