As we marked the 35th anniversary of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, we reflected on how pregnancy is still used as an excuse to push women out of work. It turns out lactating on the job can be just as dangerous for women. Take the case of Bobbi Bockoras. Bobbi works at a glass factory in Pennsylvania. She gave birth earlier this year and informed her employer she would be breastfeeding her child and so needed time to pump during her shift. Instead of providing Bobbi with a safe space to do so, her employer asked why she could not pump in a bathroom, which is prohibited by the federal law in light of health and privacy concerns. When Bobbi told her employer that she had a legal right to pump in a space that is not a bathroom, her employer placed her in a first-aid room, where her co-workers pounded on the door to get in, greased the doorknob to the room, and openly mocked her by insinuating she was a cow.
When Bobbi complained about these incidents, her supervisor instead placed her in an old locker room covered in dead bugs and with exposed electrical wiring and no air conditioning. He also retaliated against her by removing her from the day shift—which allowed her to breastfeed her baby on a regular schedule—to a rotating shift that took a toll on her body and caused her to produce less milk for her newborn.
Luckily for Bobbi, both the Affordable Care Act and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act contain protections for lactating mothers. Among other things, under the ACA employers must provide break time and clean spaces for hourly employees to pump on the job. The ACA also prevents retaliation against workers who exercise this right. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act provides that workers with pregnancy-related conditions should be treated the same as workers similar in their ability or inability to work, including through accommodations. Courts have held that lactation is a pregnancy-related condition—which means that an employer has a duty to accommodate a lactating employee if it accommodates an individual who is or was similarly limited by, for example, a medical condition like diabetes.
And again luckily for Bobbi, she was able to obtain representation. Earlier this year, the Center stepped in and wrote a demand letter to Bobbi’s employer complaining of the harassment, lack of accommodations, and uncleanliness of the room that she had been provided to pump, and Bobbi’s employer responded by “sprucing up” the room, repaneling the floor, and installing an AC. Unfortunately, her employer failed to adequately investigate the harassment and kept her on the swing shift even when a position on the day shift was available. Yesterday, represented by the ACLU, the Women’s Law Project, and the law firm Debevoise & Plimpton, Bobbi filed an EEOC charge and federal complaint seeking to rectify these illegal actions. Hopefully, the EEOC and the court will take swift action to remedy Bobbi’s predicament, and ensure that she can continue to breastfeed her child while keeping her job.