FIGHTING FOR NURSING RIGHTS FOR NEW PARENTS

Rachel Pierce was overjoyed following the birth to her daughter in October, 2016, and like many new mothers, chose to breastfeed. She spent the next four happy and hectic months navigating her new role as a mother and establishing a nursing relationship with her daughter. When it came time to go back to work, Rachel had every reason to be optimistic – she had received consistently positive performance reviews and had left on good terms. Instead she was shocked to find herself in a double bind – being a nursing mother jeopardized her job, and being a working mother jeopardized her ability to nurse.

DURING THIS PERIOD, RACHEL'S DAUGHTER SUFFERED CONSIDERABLY. WHEN RACHEL RETURNED TO WORK, HER DAUGHTER WAS IN THE 25TH PERCENTILE FOR WEIGHT. THREE MONTHS LATER, HER DAUGHTER HAD FALLEN TO JUST UNDER THE 2ND PERCENTILE FOR WEIGHT.

Rachel’s return to work as a retail sales associate soured quickly. Her managers refused her adequate time or a private space to use a breast pump, leaving her stressed and in physical pain. They ignored her requests for a consistent work schedule, like those given to colleagues, then disparaged her as unreliable as she struggled to secure child care. Rachel’s efforts to get help through Human Resources led nowhere. The mental and physical strain took a toll not only on Rachel, but also on her infant daughter, who dropped from the 25th to just under the 2nd weight percentile during this period. Rachel’s managers had put her in an impossible and unfair position, but the choice was clear – in order to protect her daughter’s health, she had to quit.

Rachel’s managers violated not only company policy, but more importantly, they violated Minnesota law. Their discriminatory and unaccommodating actions forced Rachel from her job, and at a time when she especially needed the income. But she’s not taking it lying down. Gender Justice and Rachel have filed a complaint with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights (“MDHR”) against her former employer. Together we will send the message: the law protects breast/chestfeeding employees.

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Pumping Milk at Work: Know Your Rights

Violations of minnesota law

In a complaint filed with the Hennepin County State Court, Gender Justice argues that Rachel’s former employer violated two Minnesota state laws designed to protect workers’ rights and prohibit discrimination:

  • The Women’s Economic Security Act, which requires employers to provide reasonable break time and a clean, private space to employees who need to pump breast milk.

  • Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA) which broadly prohibits employment discrimination based on a number of attributes, including sex.

By filing this complaint on behalf of Rachel Pierce, Gender Justice aims to make other employers aware of what the law requires for them to meet the needs of nursing employees, and to prevent further similar discrimination against working parents in Minnesota.

Moving forward

Gender Justice hopes that this case will serve as an important reminder to employers across Minnesota of the state laws that protect nursing employees and working parents – and the potential legal consequences of violating them.

Minnesota has the second-highest rate of working mothers in the country, and almost nine out of ten new mothers in the state breastfeed at some point. These rates have been steadily increasing, here and across the country, making it ever more important that we act now to ensure parents like Rachel aren’t penalized as they try to make the best choices for themselves and their children.

Protecting the rights of breast/chestfeeding parents in the workplace is crucial for reducing gender inequity, including closing the pay gap for women. Join us in educating the community about pumping rights by downloading our Know Your Rights Factsheet and sharing it with the nursing, working parents you know.