Nursing mothers who work have always faced challenges. When I go back to work, will I have to stop breastfeeding entirely? Is there any way I can pump and store breast milk at work? Will people harass me or retaliate against me for exercising my rights? Lactating women who work as flight attendants and pilots have some unique issues due to the need for quick turnarounds, long flights, and factors seemingly beyond their control.
Congress and many states passed laws protecting women from this particular form of discrimination in the workplace. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the New York State Nursing Mothers in the Workplace Act, and New York City Human Rights Law, for example, all impact the employment rights of lactating and pregnant women. There have not been many court decisions related to breastfeeding in the workplace, but a recent dispute has resulted in a settlement agreement between an airline and a female flight attendant who needed space to pump milk.
The laws require all employers in New York, regardless of their size, to provide employees with a private space and adequate time to pump breast milk during their time at work. Generally, the amount of time needed to pump is at least 20 minutes, every three hours. The area must be clean and cannot be a bathroom. Employers have other obligations, such as the contents of the room, the room’s privacy, location and additional concerns.
In February 2016, a female flight attendant for Endeavor Air, owned by Delta and commonly known as Delta Connection, filed a complaint with the New York City Commission on Human Rights. In the complaint, as reported by Fortune, the employee alleged that her employer’s failure “to provide her a private space to pump breast milk close to her work site” violated New York City Human Rights Law.
According to the Fortune, the employee who filed the complaint worked primarily out of Terminal 4 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City. The only private area to pump breast milk was at Terminal 2 which, according to the woman, was 25 minutes away. She did not have sufficient time to get to the lactation area, spend at least 20 minutes pumping, clean the equipment, and return to Terminal 4 from where her flights landed and departed. The employee claimed that she asked the airline to provide a closer space for her to pump and the company refused, suggesting instead that she use a family restroom in Terminal 4 or the communal staff lounge. As a result, the complaint alleged, her milk production was interrupted, and she suffered stress, loss of sleep and anxiety over how she was going to provide nutrition for her underweight baby.
Delta/Endeavor agreed to pay the flight attendant $30,000: $20,000 for her emotional distress and $10,000 for attorney’s fees. According to Fortune, the settlement also requires the airline to “revise its employee accommodation policies, train staff on its policies, and post information on pregnancy and employment rights in prominent locations in its New York City offices.”
During the time the parties were negotiating their way through the case, which took over a year, Endeavor has opened a new private lactation room closer to the flight attendant’s workspace.
The airline did not admit to any wrongdoing and because the case settled, there was no trial or verdict. The importance of this case may simply be to demonstrate to lactating employees that employers have legal obligations to provide accommodations for them to express breast milk at work. If employers don’t fulfill the requirements, employees can file complaints and take active steps to secure the accommodations they need and recover monetary compensation for their damages.
New York takes the rights of nursing mothers very seriously and works hard to protect them. So do the employment rights attorneys at Leeds Brown Law, P.C. We are a full-service employment and wage and hour firm representing clients in New York City and the surrounding areas. Our lawyers have the experience and sensitivity to help navigate your workplace discrimination matter and reach a successful outcome. Call us at 1-800-585-4658 for a free evaluation if you are a nursing mother in the workplace or have questions about your employment rights.