On her first day back at work after maternity leave, Angela Ames couldn't gain access to the company's lactation room, or the grimy "wellness" room, and was in pain with the severe need to express milk. Then she was told by her boss: "You know, I think it's best that you go home to be with your babies." She then had her dictate a resignation letter.
According to an appellate court, this behavior does not constitute discrimination by her company. In fact, the court found that her company tried really hard to "accommodate" her needs.
When reached for comment, Bessie the Dairy Cow said, "Thank God I don't work there!"
Ames worked as a loss-mitigation specialist at Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. in Iowa. But Nationwide was most definitely NOT on her side during her first day back at work after prematurely giving birth to her second child. She gave birth May 18, 2010, but due to a company miscalculation she was told on June 16th that she had to come back on July 12th. Eventually, the company gave her an extra week "off," and she returned to work on July 19th.
Quick aside: I freaking hate it when people conflate "maternity leave" with "time off." You've got a screaming newborn who needs to siphon nutrients out of your body every three hours, that's not a goddamn vacation.
In any event, Ames did return to work, and her first day back is the stuff that breastfeeding horror stories are made of. According to her lawsuit against Nationwide, Ames was informed that access to the company lactation room required a three-day waiting period. Instead she was directed to use the "wellness" room, but the HR woman who told her to use it also warned that the wellness room might expose her breastmilk to germs. So helpful.
In any event, the wellness room was occupied and Ames went back to her desk. My wife just had a baby and so I now know a key point nobody ever taught me in sex ed: lugging around engorged breasts HURTS LIKE BLOODY HELL.
While Ames was sitting there, painfully, her immediate supervisor, Brian Brinks, came up to her and told her that none of her work had been completed while she was out (whose freaking fault is that!?), and that she had two weeks to get it all done and would have to work overtime.
At some point, Ames started crying — which sounds like the right thing to do if you believe in non-violent responses to horrible treatment. Ames went to the head of her department, Karla Neel, to ask if she could help her find a room to lactate. Please note: even after this Brinks f**k laid into her about backlogs and overtime, all Ames could focus on was her painful need to express milk!
Neel told her that there was nothing she could do. Then, she allegedly said the "go home to your babies" line and handed her a pen to dictate her resignation. THIS WAS HER FIRST DAY BACK AFTER MATERNITY LEAVE.
Ames sued Nationwide for sex and pregnancy discrimination. But a panel of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled for Nationwide... unanimously! From the ruling:
Furthermore, even though Neel discouraged Ames from taking unpaid leave up to August, Neel gave Ames an extra week of maternity leave, which gave Ames more than thirty days to prepare for her return to work. Rather than intentionally rendering Ames's work conditions intolerable, the record shows that Nationwide sought to accommodate Ames's needs...
Moreover, Ames was denied immediate access to a lactation room only because she had not completed the paperwork to gain badge access. Every nursing mother was required to complete the same paperwork and was subjected to the same three-day waiting period.
Nationwide, so helpful! Really, Ames should be thanking Nationwide for not punching her in the breasts until she let down into a plastic cup.
I'm sure some will say that there were ways that Ames could have handled this all better. She could have figured out this three-day waiting policy by scouring the company intranet and filling out the paperwork while she was home nursing a preemie at 3:00 a.m. She could have decided to screw it, exposed herself at her cubicle, expressed milk, and told Neel and Brinks to go eat a dick. Hindsight is 20-20.
But for the court to say that Nationwide's behavior was an "accommodation" of her "needs" sets really bad precedent. She needed to lactate. When she showed up at work, there was no place for her to do that. Can you imagine if you showed up for work one day and found out that you missed the memo and now there was a three-day waiting period to go to the bathroom? If this doesn't constitute discriminatory behavior, what does one of have to do in order to discriminate against a new mother?
The fact that this was a unanimous ruling shows that our standards of "reasonable accommodations" for breastfeeding moms are just one step up from barbaric. Maybe it would reasonable to have more than one freaking lactation room? Or, maybe it would be reasonable to have longer federally mandated maternity leave?
Or maybe it would be reasonable for people not to be assholes to mothers on their first day back from maternity. None of this would have happened to Ames if the people she worked with were engorged with the milk of human kindness.