Another blow against breastfeeding discrimination
Women taking care of their babies got a victory against breastfeeding discrimination with an Alabama appeals court ruling on a policewoman’s case.
More importantly, the ruling noted that breastfeeding is a medical condition that’s protected under the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
Breastfeeding discrimination in Alabama
Stephanie Hicks, a former policewoman in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, had filed the lawsuit in 2013 against the Tuscaloosa Police Department after the latter had forced her to resign over her efforts to breastfeed her first child.
Hicks had been working for the police force in 2008, and was a model policewoman until she left for maternity leavein 2012.
When she returned three months later, she faced not only refusal by the department to find proper breastfeeding accommodations for her but also demoted her to get her to resign.
The federal jury ruled in Hicks’ favor in 2016, noting that the department’s actions violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
Though the city appealed the ruling, 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the verdict.
Hicks said: “So many people have reached out to me and said they were treated similarly, whether they were paramedics or teachers or bank tellers.”
“They all say the same thing: I was afraid, I couldn’t afford to quit my job, I didn’t want to be retaliated against. Fighting the system is very hard,” she added.
Legal vs. breastfeeding discrimination
Tom Spiggle, founder of the Spiggle Law Firm, noted that the move by the panel of federal judges could help other women facing similar discrimination.
Spiggle said: “The department appealed raising two important legal questions under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.”
“One is whether expressing breast milk at work is protected under the PDA and whether an employer has to provide workplace accommodations to a nursing mother when it provides accommodations to other employees,” Spiggle said.
He added that this second question is “a particularly momentous one” as it follows the 2013 Supreme Court ruling in Young vs. UPS.
This ruling first established that the PDA requires workplace accommodations versus “solely disallowing discrimination based on pregnancy.”
“The 11th Circuit answered both in the affirmative giving a tremendous victory to the rights of women who want to remain in the workplace after having children,” Spiggle said.
Law professor and author Joanna L. Grossman, writing for the legal website Justia, pointed out that the issue could have been avoided if the department had just given Hicks her requested twelve weeks of leave as this is unpaid.
“But instead, she was treated with hostility at every turn and had to resort to a jury of her peers to vindicate her rights. Can’t we do better?” Grossman noted.