No One Tells Mamma to "Just Go Home!"

Update: The ACLU and ACLU-IA filed a brief asking the whole Eighth Circuit to reconsider its decision to deny Angela her day in court, joined by eleven other women’s and employment rights organizations including: 9to5, A Better Balance, The California Women’s Law Center, Gender Justice, Legal Aid Society – Employment Law Center, Legal Momentum, National Center for Lesbian Rights, The National Organization for Women Foundation, The National Women’s Law Center, Women Employed and The Women’s Law Project.

Imagine you have just returned from maternity leave, still nursing your baby, and you find that your workplace has no place available for you to pump breast milk.  After trying for several hours to find a place, you ask for help from your department head, who says “You know, I think it’s best that you just go home to be with your babies.”  She hands you a pen and paper, advises you to resign, and even dictates what you should write down as your letter of resignation. 

This is exactly what Angela Ames, a Loss Mitigation Representative at Nationwide Insurance, alleges happened to her when she returned to work eight-weeks after having her second child. 

To begin with, as soon as she got to work, she found another employee’s belongings at her workspace—not exactly a warm welcome.   When she informed her department head that she needed a place to pump, she said that was “not her job,” and sent her to the company nurse. The nurse told her that she couldn’t use the company’s lactation room because the company needed three days to processes her “paperwork”—a policy no one had shared with her prior to her return.  The nurse advised her that she could try to pump in a room that was frequently used by sick employees with no lock on the door that was currently in use—she should check back in 15-20 minutes. 

While she was waiting, she met with her supervisor, who told her that she would have to make up all the work from her entire leave within two weeks’ time, which would require working significant overtime, or face discipline.  She finally returned, in increasing panic and pain from the pressure in her breasts, to her department head to see if there was anything she could do to help her find a place to pump.  That’s when the department head made the “just go home to be with your babies” comment and dictated her letter of resignation.

Were you in Angela’s situation, you might reasonably assume that you were not welcome back at work, and that you were essentially being fired, or at least forced off the job—as Angela did.  Unfortunately, a federal appeals court in the Eighth Circuit disagreed, holding that she should have complained to HR before trying to take her employer to court.  But because many women don’t know their rights related to pregnancy, leave, or breast pumping, they might not be aware their rights were being violated in the first place.  

Sadly, treatment like Angela faced is far too common for pregnant workers and new moms attempting to negotiate a return to paid work.  Our civil rights laws were designed to protect women against this type of sex stereotype—that women will be less committed to their work after having children, or that they should really just “go home to be with [their] babies.”  Until our workplaces incorporate conditions for workers to carry healthy pregnancies, recover from childbirth, care for their families, or continue nursing, women won’t have an equal chance at success. 

We can’t accept being told to “just go home.”  We need to keep fighting—by educating ourselves and each other about our rights, continuing to press our cases in court, and supporting legislative initiatives like the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, or similar statutes at the state level.

If you have experienced discrimination at work like Angela did, tell us your story.

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Anonymous

How sad this makes me feel. It is terrible someones mama should be so disrespected.

Anonymous

Maybe if she weren't in pain (it can be painful to have your breast milk build up and not be able to either feed your baby or pump) and needing to take care of her situation soon and getting NO support from anyone (at the very least the nurse should have known better!) she may have gone to HR. I'm guessing she was still dealing with post partum as well. Shameful that she was treated this way.

I always thought it rediculous when I was breastfeeding that people were offended if I didn't go into a toilet to do it. Like that's a good place to eat! I was always discreet, there was nothing to see, but it still bothered people just knowing what I was doing, though it's the most natural thing in the world, to feed your baby.

Anonymous RN

I would have whipped it out right in the middle of the office. I'm sure they'd find a space for me quickly.

Breastfeeding is so important for kids: it improves immune status, protects against diabetes and other illnesses, protects against SIDS and for mom it helps burn off calories (up to 500 per day) and protects against various cancers. Breastfeeding is good for everyone involved: even the company because of the costs saved in disease-avoidance (insurance has to pay, employee has to stay home with sick baby). In this day and age, it is not reasonable to expect a woman to stay home with the kids. Who can afford that?! Let's support working moms, so they can have healthy children who in turn will grow up to be healthy workers in the future.

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