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Ban vulgar jokes, comments on breastfeeding

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Hiring,Human Resources

The new health care reform law gives mothers the legal right to express breast milk at work. But that’s brought a new problem to the fore: co-workers—or even supervisors—making jokes or inappropriate comments about the practice.

Remind everyone that lactation is no joking matter, and that new mothers deserve respect and privacy when taking advantage of the new law allowing lactation breaks.

Otherwise, you could have a sexual harassment case on your hands.

Recent case: When Dr. Deborah Waechter went to work as a physician for the Fairbrook Medical Clinic, she quickly realized that her boss, the clinic’s sole owner, liked to talk about sex. He made repeated vulgar comments about his own sex life and his wife’s physical attributes.

Things got worse when Waechter got pregnant. Her boss then began commenting incessantly about her breasts and weight gain.

When she came back to work after giving birth, he continued his comments, even exclaiming that when he saw drops of milk on her desk from a breast-pumping break, he wanted to “lick it up.” At other times, he told her that she owed him big for hiring her and wanted to “help her pump” her breasts.

Waechter quit and filed an EEOC complaint. The agency sued on her behalf, but lost at the trial level when the court said the behavior wasn’t severe enough to create a sexually hostile environment. The EEOC appealed.

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and said that the described conduct was severe and pervasive. A trial is next. (EEOC v. Fairbrook Medical Clinic, No. 09-1610, 4th Cir., 2010)

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