The New York Civil Liberties Union today filed a charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of a woman who was fired from her job at a mammography center in Manhattan after choosing to pump breast milk at work.
“Public health and medical experts agree that breastfeeding should be encouraged, but too often, working moms face harassment and discrimination when they try to pump at work,” said Galen Sherwin, director of the NYCLU’s Reproductive Rights Project. “No woman should have to choose between feeding her baby and her job.”
Yadiris Rivera of Newark had worked at Medical Imaging of Manhattan for nearly six years when she returned from her maternity leave in April 2009 after giving birth to her daughter, Erin. Rivera, a bilingual receptionist, chose to breastfeed her baby and told her supervisors that she needed to pump breast milk at work – an activity her employer was required to accommodate under state labor law.
But instead of providing her with an adequate and sanitary place to pump milk, Rivera’s employer ordered her to pump in the office’s restroom, told her she should switch her daughter to formula, and soon told her that she shouldn’t be pumping at work at all. When she asserted her right to pump milk, she was targeted for discipline. She was pressured to stop pumping milk when her daughter turned 1, which she complied with. She was fired the day after her daughter’s first birthday.
“I was just trying to do what’s best for my baby, and I was badgered, bullied and eventually fired because of it,” Rivera said. “No one should have to go through what I went through.”
A state law enacted in 2007 guarantees breastfeeding mothers the right to pump milk at work for three years after giving birth. They have the right to use paid break or meal times, or reasonable unpaid break times, to pump milk. Employers must attempt to accommodate an employees’ request for a private place to pump milk. They cannot discriminate against employees who choose to pump milk at work or retaliate against women who assert their rights to do so.
In the charge filed with the EEOC, Rivera alleges that her employer’s actions also violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, a federal law that prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy and related conditions) and national origin.
Rivera had received positive performance reviews and performance-based raises at her job from 2004 until December 2009. After she asserted her rights, her supervisors started scrutinizing her every move, and targeting her for discipline. They reprimanded her for conduct that had never before been prohibited in the office and that other employees were permitted to do, and gave her poor performance reviews.
Eventually, Rivera was told she would have to stop pumping milk at work after her daughter’s first birthday. She weaned her daughter to comply with this deadline, though she had wanted to continue to breastfeed. Being forced to quickly wean her daughter caused her physical problems and emotional distress.
She contacted the NYCLU, which sent her employer a letter in October expressing concern that the office was violating the law by not accommodating her right to pump milk at work. In response, Rivera’s supervisors called her into a meeting and berated her for contacting an attorney.
On Feb. 16, the day after her daughter’s first birthday, Rivera was terminated from her job. She has been unable to find a new job, causing her family financial hardship. In addition to filing a charge with the EEOC, Rivera has filed a complaint with the New York State Department of Labor, which has authority to enforce the New York law that guarantees women the right to pump at work.
“There are laws out there to protect people like me,” Rivera said. “Women need to know their rights and employers need to learn the law.”
In addition to Sherwin, NYCLU Staff Attorney Naomi Shatz is working on the case.