One mom's breastfeeding discrimination case is making headlines after a court's surprising decision.
In late 2012, former Nationwide employee Angela Ames filed a discrimination suit against the insurance company, alleging that she faced serious obstacles to pumping breast milk at work after her maternity leave and was ultimately pressured into resigning.
A lower court dismissed her case, and Ames petitioned the Supreme Court for a review. However, that court denied her request earlier this year. ACLU attorney Galen Sherwin recently brought attention to Ames' case, highlighting some of the more frustrating aspects of the court's decision in a blog post.
According to case documents, on Ames' first day back after eight weeks of maternity leave, she requested a place to pump, as she'd been breastfeeding her baby every three hours.
Ames alleged that a supervisor sent her to a company nurse, who denied her access to the lactation room because she had not yet filled out the necessary paperwork, which required a three-day waiting period before it could be processed. Ames charged that no one had informed her of this requirement for lactation room access.
Ames was "in considerable pain" and her breasts were "engorged" at that point, the lawsuit contends, and she asked her department head for help finding a private room where she could pump. The mom alleges her supervisor responded by handing her a piece of paper, dictating a resignation letter and saying, "Maybe you should just stay home with your babies." Feeling as though "she had no other choice," Ames followed the instructions and resigned, the lawsuit says.
Ames also charged that when she came back to work, another employee's things were in her workspace, and another supervisor told her that she had two weeks to make up for the two months of work she'd missed or she would face repercussions. She also alleged being teased and passive-aggressively reprimanded for being pregnant and taking maternity leave.
The court documents note that Nationwide denied the allegations that Ames was told to make up for months of work in just two weeks and that her supervisor told her to go home and be with her children. The company also said its lactation policy was available online and that Ames did not ask any questions about it.
In a statement to The Huffington Post, Nationwide stressed that it supports employees returning from maternity leave and estimates that nursing moms use the company's lactation rooms "more than 52,000 times a year." Addressing the Ames' case specifically, the statement says:
We categorically deny the allegations that the company did not support its employee upon her return to work -- and we stand firm in our position that we did not discriminate in this case, nor do we discriminate against mothers who makes the choice to breastfeed. More importantly, these allegations are not representative of the working mother experience at Nationwide.
Ultimately, the court found that Ames did not fight hard enough to resist the resignation or contest the obstacles she faced with the human resources department. As ACLU attorney Galen Sherwin wrote in a blog post about the case, "The courts found it irrelevant that Angela was supposed to take these additional steps while engorged and waiting for a pumping room that her employer told her wouldn't be available for several days."
Sherwin also noted another reason the court denied Ames' motion for a hearing: "The trial court also held, nonsensically, that even if Angela had been fired because she was breastfeeding that was not sex discrimination, in part because men can lactate under certain circumstances."
Sherwin points out that it is scientifically true that some men can lactate, "it should also be self-evident that firing someone because they are breastfeeding is still a form of sex discrimination, and one that is all-too-frequently experienced by new mothers."