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The New Jersey Division on Civil Rights Takes Action Against an Employer Whose Lactation Accommodation for a New Mother Was a ‘Clear Violation’ of the Law

The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination’s employment discrimination protections for breastfeeding mothers are among some of the stronger ones in the country. A group within the University of California, Hastings College of Law placed New Jersey (along with New York) in a group of 12 states boasting the “most proactive laws” when it comes to protecting breastfeeding mothers in the workplace. Unfortunately, even with these laws on the books, discrimination against working women who are also breastfeeding mothers occurs far more often than it should. If you are a working mom and your employer isn’t giving you a reasonable accommodation for nursing or pumping, or has taken adverse action against you because of these activities, then that employer may be in violation of the law and you may be entitled to significant compensation. Contact an experienced New Jersey employment discrimination attorney to find out more.

A recent report from Patch shows an alleged example of pregnancy discrimination that is all too typical. According to an action taken by the Division on Civil Rights, the harmed employee was a new mom who worked for the Burlington location of a chain of discount vision service and eyewear stores.

Allegedly, after the new mother returned from her approved maternity leave, her employer switched her from full-time hours to part-time. This, of course, has a particularly harmful effect on many employees (including this mom) because the difference between full-time hours and part-time hours often means the difference between being eligible for healthcare benefits for you and your family, and being ineligible.

The alleged problems didn’t stop there. According to the employee, the accommodation the employer provided for her to express milk was a utility room filled with boxes of supplies that other employees needed to access on a regular basis. The room also allegedly did not have a lock on it until three months after the woman returned from her maternity leave.

The mother alleged that she tried to lean against the door to keep coworkers out while she was expressing milk, but that wasn’t always successful. The employee also alleged that her supervisor often demanded that she “hurry up and finish” expressing milk because there were customers waiting in the store, according to Patch.

There are a couple of key things that stand out here with regard to the alleged conditions under which this mother worked, and they both relate to statutory requirements that the N.J.S.A. imposes on employers.

What makes an accommodation appropriate for breastfeeding/expressing milk

One is the obligation to provide a “reasonable accommodation.” In other words, employers must provide their employees a place to pump or nurse that is private, unless doing so would impose an “undue hardship” on the employer. As part of that obligation, an employer cannot demand that the employee seek the privacy she needs in a toilet stall.

Another requirement is a reasonable period of time to express your milk or nurse. This may mean more frequent breaks. It may also mean longer breaks. For some moms, a standard 15-minute break may not be a long enough time period to complete the entire process.

While New Jersey law does not impose many specifics regarding these time and location requirements (other than “no bathroom stalls,”) the alleged conditions under which this mother worked clearly fell outside the bounds of what the law requires, according to the state. The director of the DCR stated that “being forced to express breast milk in a room without a lock on the door, with colleagues walking in and out, while being reprimanded to ‘hurry up and finish,’ would be a clear violation of the” law.

The Law Against Discrimination’s protections for breastfeeding mothers are some of the newer ones on the books, but they carry no less weight than any of the other workplace discrimination protections within the law. If you’ve been mistreated at work because you were breastfeeding, or because of your race, gender, age, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or religion, you may have the grounds for a successful legal action. Talk to the experienced workplace discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates to learn what options you have, what options may make the most sense for you, and how we can help. Contact us online or at (609) 436-9087 today to set up a free and confidential consultation, and begin putting the power of this office to work for you.

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