THE BLOG

This Is Seriously Effed Up

02/06/2015 12:47 pm ET | Updated Apr 08, 2015
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Nationwide must really have it in for kids.

After their strange and misplaced Super Bowl ad about a dead child, they're in the news again this week in one of the most bizarre and disappointing fails on the part of the American justice system I have ever witnessed.

Here's what happened:

When new mother Angela Ames returned from maternity leave at Nationwide, she asked her manager for the ability to pump and store milk for her child. That manager, epitome of workplace compassion s/he was, allegedly said, "Just go home and be with your babies."

The supervisor allegedly went on to dictate a letter of resignation to Ames that day, essentially forcing her resignation. (More specifics of the case here).

Ames sued.

It would be bad enough if this were where it ended, that the Nationwide supervisor and high-ups didn't fix the situation immediately and apologize profusely. It would be bad enough that a woman had to sue for the right to keep her job and provide for her infant at the same time.

Infinitely more distressing, however, is the fact that a few weeks ago, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected her petition to review her case's dismissal. They essentially told her to "just go home," as well. Even more ludicrous was their reasoning: Some men can lactate, too.

I'm sorry... WHAT?

I'm going to let Galen Sherwin of the ACLU take over here for a moment while I attempt to stave off apoplexy:

It's certainly important to acknowledge that some men (including some trans men) can and do lactate. But 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.

Sherwin went on to say:

The court's reasoning in this case echoes old Supreme Court pronouncements that discriminating against pregnant women at work isn't sex discrimination because both men and women can be non-pregnant.

Again ... what? Non-pregnant? Did I miss the part where humanity became that Arnold Schwarzenegger movie where he gets knocked up?

No. What's happening here is that essentially, court after court (comprised primarily of men) are coming up with excuses to prevent laws being enacted to protect the rights of working mothers.

This is not only unfair, it's stupid. Just a few weeks ago, the New York Times came out with a piece stating that the teams that outperformed other teams were those that had more women. And a report by Catalyst, a research firm studying women in business, found in comparing companies with the highest percentages of women board directors to those with the least, companies with the most:

  • Outperformed by 53 percent in terms of return on equity
  • Outperformed by 42 percent in terms of return on sales
  • Outperformed by 66 percent in terms of return on invested capital

In other words, creating a work environment that's good for women isn't just good for women -- it's good for the bottom line.

That said, employers shouldn't give women the time and space to care for an infant or pump milk when they come back to work because it'll make them more money, or because it's illegal not to.

They should do it because it's the right thing to do.

They should do it because no one -- man or woman -- should have to choose between their career and caring for their newborn.

I'm ashamed of you, Nationwide. And I'm ashamed of you, Supreme Court justices who voted this down. In fact, this whole case (top to bottom) made me ashamed to be a working American. Particularly because it's not always a choice. For many families in this country, having both parents working is a necessity. Not everyone can "just go home to be with their babies."

Thank goodness the Supreme Court doesn't dictate what employers can do for employees. And thank goodness for enlightened employers that don't need a mandate to do the right thing. Thank you to companies like Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Twitter, and LinkedIn, for allowing for some of the most generous paid leave of all companies in the nation, and cultures that support pumping milk safely and with dignity at work. Thank you for continuing to work towards a workplace that is not just non-toxic, but actually welcoming to mothers (and fathers). You all make me proud to be an American.

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This past Super Bowl Sunday, a Dodge commercial aired celebrating the wisdom of men and women 100+ years of age.

The people in that ad were alive when women still didn't have the right to vote in this country.

We've clearly come a long way.

We've clearly got a long ways to go. What's good for responsible parents is good for all of us. We should act like it in our break rooms, our board rooms, and our halls of justice.

As the ACLU put it:

Until our workplaces incorporate conditions for workers to carry healthy pregnancies, recover from childbirth, care for their families, or continue nursing, women won't have an equal chance at success.

Or as I put it:

If we as a culture, as a society, and as a nation don't support a new mother in making the courageous choice to raise a new citizen while simultaneously providing for her family, then we don't deserve to call ourselves the land of the free and the home of the brave.