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The FLSA and state laws mandate breaks for breastfeeding women

After a veteran charter school teacher in Colorado had her second child last year, the school she worked for refused to give her a place to pump her breast milk. They also would not provide someone to cover her class during the breaks she needed to do so — three 20-minute breaks per week.

The school decided not to renew her contract, despite five years of excellent service. She was told to her face that the problem wasn’t her job performance but that her breast pumping schedule conflicted with her work, she says.

In fact, her supervisor told her to switch to formula, according to the discrimination lawsuit she filed with the help of the ACLU.

That lawsuit was recently settled. While the teacher received some financial compensation, the more important outcome is that the school has agreed to change its policies and allow break time and an appropriate location for breastfeeding mothers to express their breast milk.

Although the lawsuit took place in Colorado, the issue obviously applies to women nationwide who choose to return to work while breastfeeding their children. In Minnesota, the law already requires employers to provide “daily unpaid break time for a mother to express breast milk for her infant child” and “to make a reasonable effort to provide a private location, other than a toilet stall, in close proximity to the workplace for this activity.”

While laws like Minnesota’s are in place in 24 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, the issue is now also part of federal law. That is because the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act specifically amended the Fair Labor Standards Act to require employers to provide reasonable break time for breast pumping, every time the worker needs to do so, for a year after the birth of each child. The amendment went into effect when the law was signed on March 30, 2010.

Importantly, the amended FLSA does not automatically exempt small companies with fewer than 50 employees. Instead, small companies must comply with the requirements unless doing so would create undue hardship.

Having young children should not be and must not be a barrier to holding a job. As a staff attorney for the ACLU said about the settlement of the Colorado teacher’s claim:

“By bringing [her] story to light…the ACLU hopes to change the old-fashioned view held by some employers that a model employee is one that does not get pregnant, does not give birth, does not breast feed, and does not have child-care responsibilities.”

Source: The Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog, “Settlement In Colorado Breastfeeding Case,” Sam Favate, Sept. 19, 2012

Our law firm represents workers facing illegal job discrimination based on a variety of factors. For more information, please see our website.

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