A jury awarded a former KFC employee $1.5 million in damages for claims related to a lactation room, Delaware Online reported. The verdict resolves the alleged gender discrimination and harassment the plaintiff endured while employed by Mitra QSR, the 4th largest domestic KFC franchisee. She had alleged that her employer made it so difficult for her to pump breast milk that her milk dried up, preventing her from feeding her child.
Autumn Lampkins, who was a manager trainee at the Delaware franchise, sued her employer after she was forced to pump breast milk in a bathroom, then in a non-private office (Lampkins v. Mitra QSR, LLC and Mitra QSR LLC, No. 16-647-CFC (D. Del., Nov. 28, 2018)). She said her employer first discouraged her from pumping at work, then demoted and transferred her so "it would be easier" for her to pump. She alleged that she was eventually given access to an office — where her supervisor worked while she pumped. The office also had a video camera that could not be turned off and a window through which co-workers watched her.
- Though Lampkins originally alleged both gender discrimination and wage and hour violations, the court granted summary judgment to the employer on her Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) claim. It declined, however, to dismiss her sex discrimination claim in November, with a jury eventually awarding her $25,000 in compensatory damages and $1.5 million in punitive damages; that figure may eventually be reduced to an applicable statutory cap, according to Delaware Online.
Since 2010, the FLSA has required employers to provide workers with reasonable break time to express breast milk for the first year of their child's life. Employers must designate a space where employees can pump — one that is obscured from public view and is not a bathroom.
Experts have advised that lactation spaces include a locking door, a comfy chair, an outlet and a table big enough for pumping gear and a laptop. Employers should be aware of the stipulations in the the U.S. Department of Labor's "Break Time for Nursing Mothers" fact sheet, and be cognizant that violations can open them up to a Title VII lawsuit, as happened with Lampkins.
With almost half of pregnant workers courting a career change due to their employers' poor pumping policies, employers also must see lactation accommodation as a retention issue. Employers with good lactation policies and a culture that's supportive of new mothers enjoy better recruitment, engagement and retention, said Work. Pump. Repeat. author Jessica Shortall in a previous interview with HR Dive.
"If someone's having a horrific experience, you could lose them," Shortall told HR Dive. For employers, getting the basics right — like a private lactation room — can make all the difference.