First Public Settlement of Legal Challenge to Enforce Colorado’s 2008 Workplace Nursing Mothers Act
September 18, 2012
The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado and the national ACLU reached a settlement on Friday with a Jefferson County public charter school on behalf of teacher Heather Burgbacher who lost her job for exercising her right to pump breast milk at work. This is the first public settlement of a legal challenge brought under the Colorado Nursing Mothers Act, a 2008 law safeguarding a woman’s right to continue breastfeeding when returning to work after having a baby.
In the settlement, Rocky Mountain Academy of Evergreen (RMAE) agreed to make significant policy changes to ensure that nursing employees have the time and space to express breast milk at work. RMAE has also agreed to provide ACLU client Burgbacher monetary compensation.
“To its credit, RMAE has agreed to make significant policy changes that I feel confident will ensure that the next nursing mom working at RMAE will have the workplace support she needs to nurse her baby for as long as she wants,” said Burgbacher. “I am deeply satisfied with this settlement.”
“RMAE is to be commended for its significant strides to protect the rights of nursing mothers in the workplace,” said ACLU of Colorado staff attorney Rebecca Wallace. “By bringing Ms. Burgbacher’s story to light and enforcing the Nursing Mothers Act, the ACLU hopes to change the old-fashioned view held by some employers that a model employee is one that does not get pregnant, does not give birth, does not breast feed, and does not have child-care responsibilities. RMAE’s steps in resolving this case serves as a model to other employers.”
Burgbacher had been a highly valued teacher at the RMAE for five years when she gave birth to her second child. In violation of 2008’s Colorado Nursing Mothers Act, RMAE failed to provide a private place for her to express breast milk and to take appropriate steps to assist Burgbacher in covering her classes for the very brief periods during which she needed to pump breast milk. Burgbacher needed to pump for 20 minutes, three times each week.
Shortly after she complained about the schools’ failure to accommodate her need for time and space to express breast milk, RMAE abruptly informed her that her employment contract would not be renewed last year, despite years of extremely positive performance evaluations.
“The law does not allow employers to force a working mother like Heather Burgbacher to choose between breastfeeding her baby and returning to work,” said ACLU of Colorado Cooperating Attorney Mari Newman of Killmer, Lane and Newman, LLP. “This settlement serves as a reminder to all Colorado employers that firing a female employee simply because she asserts her legal rights has very serious consequences. RMAE deserves recognition for working cooperatively to resolve this matter in a way that meaningfully protects the rights of nursing mothers in the workplace.”
Expressing breast milk on the job is a right guaranteed by the Colorado Workplace Accommodations for Nursing Mothers Act, as well as other state and federal anti-discrimination laws. The Nursing Mothers Act mandates that employers provide time on the job in a private location for mothers to express breast milk.
“For many mothers, breastfeeding is an essential part of caring for their children that requires minor, but necessary, accommodations in the workplace – the kinds of minor workplace adjustments that employers routinely grant other workers who need them,” said ACLU Women’s Rights Project staff attorney Galen Sherwin. “A woman’s employer should have no say in the very personal decision about whether to breastfeed her baby.”