- A former youth skating coach for the organization that operates the Pittsburgh Penguins has sued the company, alleging she was subjected to bias and retaliation because she needed to pump breast milk (Gubala v. Lemieux Group, LP dba Pittsburgh Penguins and Pittsburgh Community Rink Operating GP, LLC, No. 20-cv-00268 (W.D. Pa. Feb. 21, 2020)).
- After she returned from maternity leave, Angela Gubala, coordinator of the youth skating and introductory program, was allowed two 15-minute lactation breaks. But, Gubala alleged, it was difficult for her to take the breaks because co-workers often refused to cover for her and there was no designated space to pump. When she reported the alleged difficulties, nothing changed, she said, and an HR rep asked: "Do you want to coach or do you want to pump?"
- Gubala was eventually fired for poor performance. She then sued, alleging that reason was pretext for sex discrimination and retaliation.
Discrimination that stems from pregnancy, childbirth or related conditions constitutes unlawful sex discrimination for covered employers under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
In Clark v. City of Tucson, No. 14-02543 (D. Ariz. April 12, 2019), for example, a jury found that a breastfeeding paramedic experienced discrimination on the basis of pregnancy and the related condition of breastfeeding and that she was subjected to retaliation in violation of Title VII. It awarded her $3.8 million.
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) can also come into play for some employers. Since 2010, the FLSA has required that companies provide non-exempt employees a private space, other than a bathroom, where employees can pump breast milk and reasonable break time to do so for one year after a child's birth. The space must be shielded from view and intrusion from co-workers and the public, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Employers need not pay a nursing mother for these breaks unless she is using otherwise paid break time. If meeting the break time requirement imposes an undue hardship, however, employers with fewer than 50 employees do not have to comply. Employers should note, however, that state laws may provide greater protections.
Experts have recommended that employers go beyond the FLSA's minimum requirements and provide a space that is available only to nursing mothers and that has a comfortable chair, a locking door, an outlet and a table. A lactation policy also can be helpful, they said.