Human Resources News & Insights

Court: Can’t sue employers that ignore breastfeeding rules

The healthcare reform law amended the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to require employers to provide breaks and a room for nursing mothers to express breast milk. So why can’t mothers sue when their employers refuse to follow those breastfeeding rules?

It’s because they have to file a complaint with the Department of Labor (DOL) to have the situation rectified. The DOL can then cite companies for violating the law. And in at least 23 cases, it has.

That was the ruling of a federal district court in Iowa, which said the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) did not amend the FLSA in such a way as to allow workers to take private action against their employers for failing to provide reasonable break time or a private room to express breast milk.

Lawsuit claims employer violated breastfeeding rules

After returning from maternity leave, a convenience store worker requested a private and secure place where she could express her breast milk.

She was told she could use the store’s office. The problem was there was a video camera in the office.

After she expressed her discomfort with the camera, the company refused to disable it but told her to place a plastic bag over the device when she was expressing milk (wonder what it would say if the store was robbed while the bag was over the camera).

Even with a bag over the camera, the worker was unable to relax, and she complained again.

She then received a series of reprimands.

So she sued, claiming:

  1. The company had violated the PPACA by failing to provide her with a proper place to express her breast milk, and
  2. It had retaliated against her for complaining, which is a violation of the FLSA.

The court threw the first part of the case out, ruling that private lawsuits against employers for violating the PPACA’s new breastfeeding rules cannot stand, since such complaints must go through the DOL.

But the court is allowing the retaliation portion of her lawsuit to proceed.

We’ll keep you posted.

Cite: Salz v. Casey’s Marketing Co.

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