Although state and federal laws protect new mothers from discrimination, the Ohio Supreme Court has ruled it was legitimate for an employer to fire an employee who did not ask for an accommodation to pump breast milk.
The court concluded that the employer didn’t discriminate on the basis of sex, but simply terminated an employee for insubordination.
Recent case: LeNisa Allen worked for Totes/Isotoner in West Chester. She breast-fed her son and took breaks to express milk so she could feed her child when she got home. When she was fired after taking an unauthorized break to pump milk, she sued.
The court sidestepped the issue of whether state laws specifically cover lactating women. Instead it focused on whether Allen requested an accommodation from Totes/Isotoner.
Since she apparently assumed she could express milk as needed (in much the same way employees go to the restroom when nature calls), she did not request an accommodation.
In the end, the Ohio Supreme Court concluded Allen had been fired for not following her company’s rules. (Allen v. Totes, No. 2008-0845, Supreme Court of Ohio, 2009)
Final note: Don’t interpret this decision too broadly. Your best bet: Establish reasonable breast-pumping rules.
You can be sure this case won’t win Totes/Isotoner any “best places for women to work” awards. There is a very active breast-feeding movement in the United States. Nursing mothers have been known to stage “nurse ins” when public places such as restaurants and stores forbid mothers to nurse. In one recent case, a nursing mother ended up on a Fox News morning newscast, where she told the viewing public about nursing her baby while patronizing a Chick-fil-A restaurant. She said a manager gave her a kitchen towel and told her to cover up with it.
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