By: Kerri Caulfield
Of the various parties who repeatedly benefit from advancements in labor law and relations, women may be the most fortunate. That being said, this trend of improving conditions was only made possible because of the original problems of unequal treatment and a social stigma of women as “mothers and housewives.”
Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, of the 14th District of New York, has co-sponsored a bill along with Senator Jeff Merkley named the Breastfeeding Promotion Act of 2011. This bill is virtually a petition to amend Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which establishes equal opportunities for employment. This new amendment would specifically protect the ability of new mothers to breast feed, and provide a reasonable break time for nursing mothers. Breast feeding and expressing breast milk in the workplace are actions that are already allowed in the workplace by the amendment known as the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. This bill seeks to ensure that women who work for hourly wages are allotted an unpaid break during their work hours to pump their breasts and express breast milk when necessary.
It is the hope of those supporting this amendment that, by adjusting the language of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, discrimination against nursing mothers will be avoided. The goal is to make the language clear, and to ensure that the expressing of milk, not just the actual act of breast feeding, will be allowed and accommodated in the workplace.
The New York Civil Liberties Union recently filed a complaint with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of a woman named Yadiris Rivera, who was eventually fired from her job for continuing to pump breast milk while at work. Rivera was an employee of a mammogram center called Medical Imaging of Manhattan, where she worked as a receptionist. She had recently returned from maternity leave, and informed her supervisors that she was breast feeding her child and would need to pump at work. Rather than accommodating her needs, Rivera’s employer told her she would have to pump in the restroom, and should switch to formula.
Breast feeding is an important bonding experience for many mothers, and all provides many health benefits for young children. Allowing women the ability to pump breast milk at work, without the threat of harassment or termination, can encourage them to choose to feed their children with breast milk rather than formula.
By amending Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, situations such as Yadiris Rivera’s can be completely avoided. Employers will recognize that it is their duty to provide employees who are nursing their children with a private and sanitary place to pump, as well as a break to do so, while at work. Any refusal to accommodate nursing mothers would equate to discrimination on the basis of gender and pregnancy, and would not be tolerated.
 Maloney Applauds HHS Approval of Expansion of Breastfeeding Policies, press release (Aug. 2, 2011), http://maloney.house.gov/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2416&Itemid=61.
 Breastfeeding Promotion Act of 2011, H.R. 2758, 112th Cong. (2011).
 Maloney Applauds HHS Approval of Expansion of Breastfeeding Policies, press release, (Aug. 2, 2011), http://maloney.house.gov/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2416&Itemid=61.
 NYCLU Files EEOC Complaint on Behalf of Mother Fired for Pumping Milk at Breast Doctor’s Office, New York Civil Liberties Union, (Aug.27, 2011), http://www.nyclu.org/nres/nyclu-files-eeoc-complaint-behalf0of-mother-fired-pumping-milk-job-breast-dr’s-office.