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Legal Briefing

Breast-Feeding Cop Wins Pregnancy Discrimination Case

Employers must accommodate breast-feeding mothers in the same manner they would employees with a similar ability or inability to work. 

After returning from a 12-week maternity leave, Stephanie Hicks, a police officer, overheard her supervisor commenting to her captain about finding ways to “get her out of here,” apparently because her leave was longer than her supervisor had wanted her to take.

After only eight days back on the job, Hicks was transferred from narcotics to the patrol division, where her pay was cut and she no longer had a vehicle or weekends off. The new job duties also required Hicks, who was breast-feeding, to wear a ballistic vest all day long, which she said wasn’t possible. When Hicks asked for an accommodation, she was told breast-feeding was not a condition that “warranted alternative duty” and that she could either wear a larger size — which left dangerous gaps — or not wear the vest at all. As a result, Hicks resigned.

Hicks sued the City of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act and a jury decided in her favor. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit affirmed the jury award, holding that the overheard conversation and the temporal proximity of only eight days supported the inference that there was intentional discrimination. Hicks v. City of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Case No. 16-13003 (11th Circuit Sept. 7, 2017).

IMPACT: Employers must accommodate breast-feeding mothers in the same manner they would employees with a similar ability or inability to work.

Mark T. Kobata and Marty Denis are partners at the law firm Barlow, Kobata and Denis, which has offices in Beverly Hills, California, and Chicago. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com.