Saturday, February 6, 2016

Former Police Officer Goes to Court Over Breastfeeding Rights

Former Officer Stephanie Hicks with her two sons.
by Glenni Lorick, IBCLC
She swore to serve and protect those in her jurisdiction, but when it came to her right to pump breastmilk for her baby, nobody was there to protect Stephanie Hicks.

Stephanie's Story

Stephanie knew from the time she was pregnant that she wanted to breastfeed. She had many struggles at first including high bilirubin and a painful latch. She wondered what she was doing wrong and stumbled through day after exhausting day, determined to give her baby the liquid gold only she could provide for him. She even considered giving up breastfeeding, but in the next moment felt like a failure for even thinking that. Fortunately the lactation consultants at Northport Breast Center were there every step of the way, and her husband was incredibly supportive. Breastfeeding got easier, and before long it was time to return to work.

As a police officer she knew that she was guaranteed the right to break time and a clean, private, non-bathroom space for pumping under the 2010 Affordable Care Act. However, the police department she worked for chose not to follow the law. They told her to pump in the locker room, definitely neither private nor clean. Her fellow officers often gawked and asked questions as she pumped. Her supervisors questioned the length of her pumping breaks (also against the law).They even planned field work during the time she would normally be breaking to pump.

When she complained, she was reassigned to another shift that interfered even more with her feeding schedule and her childcare. The reassignment also involved a loss of pay, loss of vehicle and loss of days off. In the new assignment she was asked to violate policies as an accommodation. Her milk supply began to suffer. She ultimately had to choose between her job as a police officer and breastfeeding.

Stephanie's Fight

Stephanie pumped and donated milk to the baby on the left.

It is outrageous that a woman who has chosen to dedicate her life to protecting the rights of Alabama citizens should have her own civil rights so deliberately violated by the very department for which she works. Stephanie has chosen to fight not only for her rights, but for the rights of all breastfeeding mothers in the workplace. On Monday, February 8, 2016 her claim of pregnancy/breastfeeding discrimination will be heard at The Federal Courthouse located at 2205 University Blvd. She is claiming FMLA discrimination, retaliation and constructive termination.

Stephanie stresses, "The need for more accommodations and acceptance for nursing mothers in the workplace is huge. Despite overwhelming evidence supporting the health benefits of breastfeeding, women who choose to continue breastfeeding when they return to the paid workforce face insurmountable obstacles that can make them choose between their jobs and what is in the best interest of their babies. I feel like I was discriminated against and not accommodated under the law, but also was retaliated against when I was reassigned. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits sex discrimination on the basis of pregnancy. Lactation is an obvious result of pregnancy."

Her ultimate desire is to see a change in the way employers view breastfeeding: "This is one of the first cases that will be heard by a jury in the southern District. It is a cultural transition. It's going to take an enormous shift for people to come around to understand the state and federal breastfeeding/pumping laws and also the enforcement of those laws. Speaking up about this cause is a step in the right direction."

Stephanie has gone on to have a second baby and is currently nursing him. 

Join the Protest

A breastfeeding rights protest is scheduled for the same day as Hicks' trial, February 8 from 8:00am - 1:00pm at the Federal Building (2205 University Blvd). Organizers will be wearing reflective vests. The local police department has been made aware of the protest, and as long as mothers are not causing a traffic hazard or impeding traffic or blocking any entrances or exits to the Federal Building, you should not be asked to leave. Protesters are welcome to nurse as long as they need to. If at any time you believe your free speech rights are being threatened, speak to one of the organizers.

It is important to realize that not everyone who passes by will be interested in what you are protesting. This is a peaceful protest; there is no need to argue with any bystanders. You can simply give them a copy of the Department of Labor Fact Sheet or other information related to this issue. You will need to dress appropriately for the weather because the protest will be outside. It would be a good idea to have bottled water and snacks on hand. Blankets to sit on the grass are also a good idea. 

We want the community to recognize that breastfeeding mothers only want the very best for their babies, and the want the right to continue providing breastmilk even after they go back to work. Therefore, please avoid yelling insults even if bystanders insult you. Don't vandalize public or private property, or leave any litter. And please don't spit or throw water on anyone who disagrees with you. Remember that you are the face of Alabama breastfeeding mothers. This is your opportunity to stand with former Officer Stephanie Hicks as she seeks to serve and protect breastfeeding mothers across the state.


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