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Nursing mom protected from discrimination? Maybe

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Human Resources,Maternity Leave Laws

Some new mothers returning to work after giving birth request time off during the workday to express and store breast milk. Some states have passed specific laws protecting nursing women from harassment and discrimination (see box below). While Pennsylvania has no state law, Philadelphia does have a city ordinance allowing women to breast-feed in public places.

Now the federal courts have begun to recognize that retaliation or adverse employment decisions based on a woman’s need to nurse may be sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

Recent case: Jennifer Page, a police officer, took maternity leave and decided to breast-feed her infant. When she returned to work, she asked for—and received—permission to take two extra breaks in order to express and store her child’s milk.

After about two months, Page quit and sued, charging retaliation and a hostile work environment. She alleged that her co-workers and supervisors made faces when she took her breaks and generally treated her as if her desire to express milk was “disgusting.” However, no one actually made any comments that she could recall.

The court wrote that “we will assume … that a complaint based on the need to express milk is cognizable under Title VII,” even though it did not rule so specifically since Page’s employer had conceded discrimination based on nursing was illegal. The 3rd Circuit then tossed out her case, reasoning that she hadn’t proven anyone treated her poorly because she took breaks to express milk. (Page v. Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania, et al., No. 06-1008, 3rd Cir., 2007)   

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