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Woman Denied Lactation Room and Fired Is Not Getting Trial

Topics: Current Events

“I think it’s best you go home and be with your babies” is not what an employee expects to hear upon returning to work after maternity leave. Unfortunately, it is exactly what Angela Ames heard when she requested access to a lactation room to express breast milk. Ms. Ames filed to sue for sexual discrimination, but has been denied access to a trial. The details will make any reasonable person’s head spin.

(Photo Credit: Life Mental Health/Flickr)

Angela Ames was first hired by Nationwide Insurance in October of 2008 as a loss mitigation specialist. She gave birth to her first child in May of 2009 and took eight weeks of maternity leave. She discovered she was pregnant again in October of 2009. Unfortunately, there were complications with the pregnancy, and Ames’s doctor ordered bed rest in April of 2010. She was treated in a harassing manner by her direct supervisor, who rolled her eyes and said she never had to take bed rest during her own pregnancies.

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Ames gave birth to her second child prematurely in May of 2010. Nationwide had already trained a temporary replacement to take over Ames’s job while she was on maternity leave. Still, managers called her to discuss “mistakes” they made calculating her leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Ames was told that she could take the originally agreed upon amount of time unpaid, but doing so would raise “red flags.” Not only does “red flag” sound like a threat, but they already had a trained, temporary replacement doing Ames’ job.

Ames returned to work in July of 2010, about one month earlier than she had originally planned. Before she returned, she had a conversation with a manager asking where she could express milk, and was told a lactation room.

No Lactation Room

However, upon returning to work, Ames’ asked her supervisor where the lactation room was, and was told it wasn’t the supervisor’s responsibility to provide one. She was sent to see the company nurse. The nurse wanted Ames to fill out paperwork to use a lactation room that would take three days to process. At this time, Ames’ breast were already engorged and painful — she needed to express milk. This was the first she heard of paperwork that would take three days to process. The nurse told her she could use a “wellness room,” but that it was unsanitary and could taint the milk.

This is about the time her manager starts getting on her case. Regardless of the fact that they trained a temporary replacement, somehow none of Ames’ work had been done in her absence. She had two weeks to catch up or face discipline. At this point Ames’ was in tears and still begging for a place to lactate. That is when she heard the famous line, “I think it’s best you go home and be with your babies,” and was handed a pen and paper to write her letter of resignation. 

She is being denied a trial by a federal appeals panel made up solely of men, who have, of course, never experienced engorged, painful breasts. Their rationale? They think a “reasonable person” would not have felt discriminated against and harassed in Ms. Ames’ position. Think Progress has quoted Ms. Ames’ lawyer as saying that not being allowed to pump with not being allowed to use the restroom. It’s brilliant, and a must-read. Still, in this country a “reasonable person” should be just that: a person. Not just a man; women are people, too.

I guess Nationwide isn’t really on your side — if you need to pump breastmilk at work.

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Have you expressed breast mild at work? What was your experience like? Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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