A woman who filed charges against her employer for failing to accommodate her and encouraging her to resign when she was breastfeeding cannot continue with her lawsuit, a court ruled on Thursday.
Angela Ames returned to work in 2010 at Nationwide Mutual Insurance in Des Moines after a two-month maternity leave. She needed to breastfeed every three hours, but the company refused to let her use its lactation rooms because she had not completed necessary security paperwork, which she was unaware was a requirement and would take three days to process. A nurse told her she could lactate in a wellness room, but that it might expose the milk to germs.
While she was in pain after being unable to express her milk for several hours, her supervisor told her she would have to work overtime. When she then spoke to her department head, Karla Neel, she told her it was not her responsibility to help her, and she said, “I think it’s best that you go home to be with your babies.” Neel then handed Ames papers with details of her resignation on them and told her to sign. In addition, several months prior, her supervisors told Ames she may have to cut her maternity leave short and gave the impression that taking extra unpaid leave would be looked at unfavorably.
Ames filed a lawsuit alleging gender and pregnancy discrimination at the state and federal level. A US District Judge dismissed the case in 2012, but the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging that it be reinstated. Against all evidence, the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals – a court of all men – ruled that Ames had not provided legal proof that she had been discriminated against, that the company had properly tried to accommodate her needs, and that a reasonable person would not “jump to the conclusion that her only option was to resign,” even though Ames was in significant pain and distress at the time.
Despite the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978’s bar on discrimination toward pregnant employees, many American women are forced out of their jobs or denied accommodations that would allow them to continue working once they become pregnant. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) would strengthen it, requiring employers to provide reasonable accommodations for workers and barring them from denying employment opportunities based on a reasonable accommodation, but it has stalled in Congress since last May.
Media Resources: ThinkProgress 3/19/14; MSN News 3/19/14; Feminist Newswire 2/4/14, 5/15/13