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Breastfeeding activists fight for rights at work

Under the Affordable Care Act, lactating mothers are permitted to express breast milk at work. Those companies who deny that right run the risk of both gender and pregnancy discrimination. One 31-year-old worker at a glass factory in neighboring Pennsylvania is filing a lactation discrimination suit against her employer. The ACA allows her access to a clean and private space to express her milk. When she made her request, supervisors balked and directed her to an alternative room, which the new mother claims was a stuffy locker room with dead insects lying around.

The woman claims she was the target of jokes and harassment by coworkers. Her suit calls the treatment "defeating and exhausting."

Following her complaints, she was reassigned to a different shift that interfered with her feeding schedule and affected her milk production. A civil suit has been filed on her behalf by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission.

This case is making history as it underscores the first federal law of its kind to protect nursing mothers at work. In Texas, one judge denied a similar claim that the company where she worked had fired a female employee for requesting a private place to express breast milk on the job. The decision claimed lactation is not pregnancy and therefore, not protected under the law. "Lactivists" decried the ruling, and it was later overturned. Three judges affirmed that lactation is a result of pregnancy and therefore, nursing mothers are protected

Advocates report that nursing mothers face huge obstacles that force them to choose between work and the best interests of their newborns. Legal representatives for the Pennsylvania mother argue that she has been discriminated against and suffered retaliatory action when her schedule was change.

Her company contends they are committed to providing a respectful workplace for working mothers and take the laws protecting them very seriously.

Since the lawsuit, the woman has been reinstated to her original schedule, and the alternative room has been cleaned up.

Before the ACA, nursing mothers had few rights, and while this case has opened a new door for tolerance and acceptance, there is still much to accomplish. The provisions currently do not outline consequences for companies that do not follow the law.

While laws are in place to protect all workers from discrimination, this case indicates that gender discrimination comes in many forms.

Source: usnews.nbcnews.com, "Pumped up: Breastfeeding mothers fight for rights at work" Allison Yarrow, Jan. 10, 2014

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