A breastfeeding mother could not pump at work. She sued her employer for workplace discrimination and won… millions of dollars. That news made the headlines at least twice in the last two months. To their credit, these women planned ahead, reviewed the requirements and knew their rights. In both cases there was improper or no accommodation in addition to harassment.

Autumn Lampkins had been told ahead of time that taking breaks (unpaid) to pump would not be a problem. In reality, there were no accommodations for her, she was allowed only one break in a ten hour shift and, to make matters worse, she was harassed by her co-workers about her ‘breaks’. Ms.Lampkin’s brought the lawsuit against her employer, KFC. She won $25, 000 in compensatory damages and $1.5 milllion in punitive damages.

Another woman, a paramedic in Arizona, sued for the same reasons: failing to provide a private place to pump. When she made her complaints, her employer retaliated against her, rather than review her legal rights. The jury awarded that woman $3.8 million.

Employers (and co-workers) should pay attention to this. In 2016, a report authored by Cynthia Thomas Calvert•, and published by the UC Hastings College of Law, noted that Family Responsibility Discrimination cases regarding lactation have increased 800% since the previous decade, though the number of cases is still small.

To be clear, lactation is considered “a condition related to pregnancy that is covered by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act” The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was amended to require employers to “provide reasonable break time and a private, non-bathroom place for nursing mothers to express breast milk during the workday, for one year after the child’s birth.

Specifically, that isa place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.” Taking breaks for pumping is unpaid time, though regular breaks for which one is already compensated, still must be honored as such even if the woman uses that time to express milk. These requirements became effective in 2010.

A review of those labor laws is easily accessible on the Department of Labor website: Wage and Hour Division.

Employers can have more productive, probably more loyal employees and avoid the bad press. A healthy woman, caring for her healthy child, is an excellent investment. Healthy citizens benefit everyone: businesses, schools, co-workers. That’s good for business and our communities in general.

I am certain these women would have preferred to provide breast milk for a longer period and with less difficulty while at work. I applaud them for knowing and asserting their rights and the laws. Employers, and other employees, should also know the basics of these laws.

Family Responsibilities Discrimination Litigation Update 2016: Caregivers in the Workplace
By Cynthia Thomas Calvert Work Life Law UC Hastings College of the Law.