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New Mom Who Needed to Pump During Bar Exam Would Not Take 'No' for an Answer

Galen Sherwin,
Former Senior Staff Attorney,
ACLU Women’s Rights Project
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February 26, 2015

Late last year, Shahzeen Karim, an Illinois attorney and applicant to the Texas bar, tweeted: “Real time: Told TX #barexam will not accommodate me nursing/pumping my baby, due Feb 7th. Option? Pump in bathroom during break for 3 days.”

Needless to say, she did not view this as an acceptable option – and she decided not to take “no” for an answer.

The Texas bar exam was scheduled less than three weeks after her baby was due. She wasn’t certain she was going to be sitting for the exam at all, given how close it was to her due date. Because Shahzeen has another child whom she breastfed, she knew that her newborn would just be establishing a breastfeeding schedule and that she would likely be nursing around the clock. But at least she wanted to have the option of taking the test if everything went well.

If this was going to work at all, Shahzeen knew she would need to pump breast milk during the grueling, multi-day exam. If not, she would be in serious pain and at risk of infection (which is what happens if breastfeeding moms don’t pump when their babies would normally nurse). She would also run the risk of not having enough milk for her baby while threatening her milk supply.

Furthermore, Shahzeen would need additional break time to take care of other necessities (like eating and going to the bathroom—you, know, details) and a private place so she could pump in peace. She did not want to have to go through the experience of pumping on the floor of a public restroom, while all the other test-takers lined up waiting for a stall during the allotted break period – an experience not exactly conducive to either pumping or excelling on grueling licensure examinations like the bar.

Shahzeen had also heard that the Illinois Board of Bar Examiners had just granted another woman, Kristin Pagano, the same type of accommodations for nursing. After receiving a letter from the ACLU of Illinois, the board decided to go further and change their policies so that anyone who needed this type of testing modification would receive it.

So Shahzeen promptly sent a letter to the Texas Board of Law Examiners, making the case for why she should be allowed additional break time and a private place to pump breast milk. And her letter did the trick – the board agreed to grant her the accommodations she requested.

She tweeted, “Ecstatic! TXBd approved my nursing accommodation during the #barexam. Big thanku 2 @KPaganoEsq 4 paving the way in IL! #pregnant&winning” and “thank u to the @ACLU for offering their help! Hopefully more nursing mothers won’t hv 2 put their careers on hold for any more exams!”

But Shahzeen is not stopping there. Like Kristin Pagano, she wants the Texas Board of Law Examiners to make the same accommodations available to all applicants who need them – that’s why she reached out to the ACLU for help.

On Monday, we sent a letter to the Texas Board of Law Examiners asking them to change their policies on granting accommodations for pumping – and, like Shahzeen, we won’t take “no” for an answer.

Lend your voice in support by signing this petition.

Do you have a story about needing accommodations for pumping during a standardized or licensure test? Tell us your story!

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