The Ohio State Supreme Court ruled this past Thursday that the state law banning discrimination against pregnant women cannot be used to protect a woman who was taking unauthorized breaks to pump her breast milk. The ruling did not deal with the issue of whether lactating women should be protected under the same law as pregnant women.
If the mother, LaNisa Allen, had sought accommodation for her situation and the company (Totes/Isotoner) had refused to give her any, she would have had grounds to sue based on the pregnancy discrimination law, thus forcing a ruling to be made about lactating women. The sole dissenting judge, Justice Paul Pfeifer, wrote that the court should have made such a ruling anyway instead of dealing only with Allen’s dismissal.
I agree that Allen should have sought accommodation but what if she had and Totes/Isotoner had refused? Perhaps she knew from past practice that the company would not have accommodated her, so in an effort to continue to nourish her baby and keep her job, she attempted to handle it by pumping on the sly. I’m not saying that she made the right choice. I am saying that this is a choice that she shouldn’t have had to make.
I know that if lactating women were allowed to take extra breaks to pump their milk, there would be an outcry from people who don’t think women should be given special accommodations for anything to do with pregnancy or child-rearing. As if pumping milk was restful. (They ought to try it some time.) But in this less-than-child-friendly nation, women are all too often told that they chose to have children, so why should others have to bear the consequences of their decisions?
What I would like to know and the article didn’t say was if she received a warning or other disciplinary action first or if she was just fired outright without any chance to redeem herself. I would take issue with that, but I guess there’s no law that says that employers have to go through some kind of disciplinary process before they can fire someone. (And there is no mention of a union which could have defended her rights.) Then again, maybe Allen had other problems which contributed to her dismissal.
The bottom line is that this is an issue that will have to be dealt with in the courts at some point, probably on a state-by-state basis. Do women have the right to breastfeed or not? Or should they be required to put their babies on the bottle if they’re going to work outside of the home? Another way to put it, of course, is do babies have the right to receive the best nourishment they can get or must their health be compromised when their mothers work? And, are poor mothers who have no choice about working going to be forced to use formula while wealthier women are free to breastfeed?
Apparently no one has asked if Totes/Isotoner would have accommodated Allen if she had asked them to. My guess is not unless they had been forced to by the law.