• Colorado Employee Fired for Request to Pump Breast Milk
  • February 20, 2015
  • Law Firm: Burg Simpson Eldredge Hersh Jardine P.C. - Englewood Office
  • Under legislation passed in Colorado in 2008, employers must make reasonable accommodations to permit new mothers to express milk at work. Reflecting society’s recognition of the health benefits of feeding infants breast milk, the Workplace Accommodations for Nursing Mothers Act operates in conjunction with federal laws that prohibit pregnancy discrimination and retaliation for taking action against such discrimination. Unfortunately, many employers remain unaware of their obligations under these laws and implement employment policies that run afoul of them.

    Salon terminates employee for asking to express milk

    A Grand Junction hair salon is one of the latest employers to be accused of failing to comply with Colorado’s anti-discrimination employment laws. When one of the salon’s stylists requested short breaks every four hours to express milk in a back room, as was recommended by her physicians, her employer asked her if she would become “dizzy” or “nauseous,” according to the complaint filed in the case.

    Despite the employee’s assurances that “there were no side effects” of pumping, her employer refused her request, leaving the new mother no option except to work four hour shifts - or discontinue feeding her baby breast milk. In response, the employer made a notation that the employee was “physically unable” to work full time. Notwithstanding additional requests for accommodation so that she could work full time, the breastfeeding employee was eventually fired.

    Federal protection for nursing mothers

    As noted, Colorado state law is not the only protection breastfeeding mothers enjoy under the law. Specifically, the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which was enacted as an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, also shields nursing mothers from such discrimination. According to recent enforcement guidelines from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “[L]ess favorable treatment of a lactating employee may raise an inference of unlawful discrimination. For example, a manager’s statement that an employee was demoted because of her breastfeeding schedule would raise an inference that the demotion was unlawfully based on the pregnancy-related medical condition of lactation.”

    Similar anti-discrimination suits

    The aforementioned salon employee joins a list of other Colorado nursing mothers that have faced less than hospitable reactions from their employees after asking for accommodations to express milk at work. In another recent case, a school teacher also lost her job due to her requests for accommodation to pump at work.