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Got Milk? Get Fired

The WSJ Juggle Blog reports on an Ohio Supreme Court decision finding that a company that fired a female employee who took unscheduled breaks from work to pump breast milk did not violate Ohio's pregnancy discrimination or sex discrimination laws. The facts, as summarized in the post:

[LaNissa Allen] was fired after taking unscheduled breaks from work to pump milk. She fed her five-month-old baby before reporting to work for her 6 a.m. shift, but found waiting until her scheduled 11 a.m. break to pump milk was too difficult. Any breastfeeding mother could relate to the discomfort and leakage Ms. Allen said she was experiencing.

Ms. Allen asked her bosses either to let her take an extended break at 10 a.m., or to extend a brief 10-minute break she was allowed at 8 a.m., to allow her time to pump, but neither request was granted. After suffering for several days, Ms. Allen began taking an unscheduled restroom break around 10 a.m. every day to use her breast pump, court papers show. A supervisor told her she was violating work rules by not waiting until her 11 a.m. break, and she was later fired.

Allen sued, arguing that her termination violated sex and pregnancy discrimination laws. The company disagreed, arguing that the firing didn't relate to Allen's need to pump, but the simple fact that she didn't follow directions and violated workplace rules with unauthorized breaks.

The court said that Allen failed to offer evidence that the employer was motivated by discrimination. It seems to me that would have been a difficult task; Allen would had to produce either example of sexist comments from supervisors or evidence showing that the company did not treat other male workers taking unauthorized breaks as harshly. Because Allen never proved this element of her case (according to the court), it never reached the issue of whether breastfeeding mothers are protected by pregnancy discrimination laws.

Bloggers have been critical of the "Got milk, get fired" decision. Kate Harding throws in her two cents on's Broadsheet blog, while Pamela Wolf of CCH WorkDay says that the court should have ruled on the pivotal question: "Does Ohio law protect women from employment discrimination based on breast feeding?"

During the recession, I suspect more women are rushing back to work soon after having babies in order to hold on to their jobs and avoid losing any income. The breastfeeding question is likely to present itself again soon, either in Ohio or other jurisdictions.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on August 31, 2009 at 05:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)


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