Firing a Mom Because She's Breastfeeding Is Sex Discrimination

A few months ago, I posted about Angela Ames, the Nationwide Insurance worker who alleged that she was denied a place to pump breast milk when she returned to work from maternity leave. When she protested, Angela was coerced into resigning by her supervisor, who told her she should "just go home and be with your babies".

In January, the Supreme Court sent her the same message – go home ­– rejecting her petition for a review of the dismissal of her case. The denial of her petition effectively means the end of the line for her case.

The courts dismissed Angela's case saying that she didn't take sufficient steps to complain internally before writing her letter of resignation – even though her own supervisor was the one who handed her the pen and dictated what to write – and therefore, she wasn't really fired. The courts found it irrelevant that Angela was supposed to take these additional steps while engorged and waiting for a pumping room that her employer told her wouldn't be available for several days.

The trial court also held, nonsensically, that even if Angela had been fired because she was breastfeeding that was not sex discrimination, in part because men can lactate under certain circumstances.

It's certainly important to acknowledge that some men (including some trans men) can and do lactate. But it should also be self-evident that firing someone because they are breastfeeding is still a form of sex discrimination, and one that is all-too-frequently experienced by new mothers. The court's reasoning in this case echoes old Supreme Court pronouncements that discriminating against pregnant women at work isn't sex discrimination because both men and women can be non-pregnant. Congress long ago rejected this ridiculous reasoning when it passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. It's disheartening to see it resurface again.

Perhaps most shockingly, in Angela's case the trial court also found that the "just go home and be with your babies" comment was gender-neutral. As the ACLU and 11 other organizations argued in a brief supporting Angela's appeal, that comment reflects exactly the type of sex stereotype – that women will be less committed to their work after having children, or that they belong at home taking care of the children – that the federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in employment was aimed at eradicating.

Angela's case shines a harsh light on the multi-layered workings of structural discrimination: Workplace policies that don't make space for the realities of pregnancy and motherhood, employers' entrenched sex stereotypes and implicit bias, and courts that – despite decades' old legal protections – still manage to turn a blind eye to the pervasive discrimination faced every day by working women.

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Anonymous

To be honest she messed up by resigning, which is why we have Unions, so companies can't do that kind of thing to employees.

Anonymous

I don't understand why this is sex discrimination and I really dislike this website because it claims situations to be an act of sex discrimination with out actually explaining why it's sex discrimination! The court brings up a very valid point that men do lactate under specific circumstances so by definition it can't be sex discrimination. I am sort of in between whether or not special accommodations should be made for pregnant women because of sex discrimination. I think maternal leave is perfectly fine because there's paternal leave and I think that breast feeding should be allowed but not because of sexual discrimination! You are asking to get additional rights for pregnant women so wouldn't that be creating sexual discrimination? I think it should be done but not under the banner of sex discrimination but rather under a completely different argument.

Anonymous

"I think maternal leave is perfectly fine because there's paternal leave..."

So you think a woman should only be allowed to do/have something if men are allowed to do the same? Have you ever considered that the sexes have different needs? Women don't need "equality" to men; they need equity based on their physical needs. Equality in this sense is a meaningless buzzword. A woman NEEDS leave from work, at least for a while; most women cannot give birth and then return to the office the next day, or even the next week. This is a result of her female biology. Men (and I'm not talking about trans men, who are still female) do not physically require time off to birth and rest, so there is no actual need for paternity leave (although it is a benefit). So it isn't sex discrimination to provide this only got women, because it is only physically necessary for women.

As for lactating, men (again, trans men are female) do it very rarely, and do not need to do it for the sake of feeding someone else. Again, this is a physical necessity.

In other words, denying a woman something that is physically necessary for her or not giving it to her because men don't have it is sex-based discrimination.

Anonymous

So yes, women should have additional rights pertaining to their additional needs.

Anonymous

The Supreme Court was right. This isn't a case of sex discrimination.

Anonymous

Actually, that comment is gender neutral. The application of it is another story. Has any man EVER been told he needs to go home and be with his kid?

Anonymous

I can't find any other sources about this SC decision. Can you please link to it so I can read further? Thank you.

Anonymous

Scanning through the Eighth Circuit's opinion - where does it say that men can lactate?

Anonymous

It doesn't. This was communicated by the trial court as it states in the blog post.

Anonymous

Please tell me at least one justice dissented. . . smh

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