Last week my better half sent me an email titled “Boycott Isotoner?” with a link to this article, about one company’s legal troubles following its firing of a female employee who was pumping breastmilk while on the clock. The case went all the way to Ohio’s Supreme Court, which ultimately ruled that the firing was legal because—woman or not, breastfeeding mother or not—this mother-employee had taken unauthorized breaks to pump during her shift and was therefore in violation of company policy. As a breastfeeding and working mother myself, my hackles were of course immediately raised, but then, when I read that the woman admitted to taking unapproved breaks to pump, I almost slapped my forehead and yelled “duh” at the computer screen, because this—this—is the sort of thing that gives working mothers a bad name and makes it hard for us to parent in the ways we want to, whether that involves breastfeeding while working or even going back to work after having children at all. No wonder we’re accused of seeking special treatment! But then I read on.Apparently, the trial court said that lactation was not covered under pregnancy-related anti-discrimination laws because “[LaNisa] Allen gave birth over five months prior to her termination [...and] pregnant [women] who give birth and choose not to breastfeed or pump their breasts do not continue to lactate for five months. Thus, Allen’s condition of lactating was not a condition relating to pregnancy but rather a condition related to breastfeeding. Breastfeeding discrimination does not constitute gender discrimination.”
I’m not even going to touch the ways in which that decision not only discourages working women from breastfeeding at all but also opens the door to revoking what protections pregnant employees already have under the law. (If breastfeeding is a choice, and a company can apparently fire a women for her decision to breastfeed, how long until someone argues that getting pregnant is, generally speaking, a choice as well, and therefore companies should have the legal right to fire an employee for her decision to get pregnant? My hackles are sky-high.)
I understand why the decision in Allen v. totes/Isotoner Corp. went the way it did—the defending lawyers made the case about Allen’s unscheduled breaks, not about what she was doing on those breaks, i.e., pumping milk for her infant—but even though her termination may have been justified or legal doesn’t mean it was right. The Salon.com article linked above explains why the firing was unquestionably gender discrimination and why, moreso, the woman should have been protected under the state’s pregnancy-related anti-discrimination laws. Other articles on the case speculate that the decision may eventually be overturned.
When I started this article, I planned to end with the question “Would you ever boycott a company based on their treatment of working mothers?” but now that I’m here at the end I’m more interested to just hear what other working mothers think of this case. Where do you stand on this case and/or the larger issue(s), and what implications do you think this has for the future?
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