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Employment discrimination with respect to breastfeeding at work is garnering attention in courts across the nation. The Eighth Circuit recently tackled the issue in the context of constructive discharge.
The court affirmed a district court's grant of summary judgment to an employer embroiled in a pregnancy and sex discrimination case for compelling a breastfeeding's worker's resignation.
Three actions by Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. prompted the constructive discharge claims by the plaintiff Angela Ames:
The three-member (and all-male) panel ruled that the above conduct did not require Ames to quit her job as she did. As a result, she could not pursue her employment discrimination case brought under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Iowa Civil Rights Act.
First, the panel ruled that Ames was only denied immediate access to a lactation room because she didn't submit required paperwork to obtain a badge that grants authorization to access to the room. Ames said she didn't submit the paperwork because she didn't know an access badge was required. But no dice.
The panel also ruled the work makeup requirement was lawful because it was a requirement imposed on all employees.
Finally, the panel was unconvinced about the "go home" comment and determined that Ames should have given the company a chance to make things right -- for example, by first complaining to a Nationwide nurse or the human resources department -- before quitting.
The panel also noted Nationwide's efforts to accommodate Ames and its willingness to extend her maternity beyond what was legally required.
While the panel seemed to adopt a rationale that Ames didn't adequately exhaust her remedies before quitting, it seems a bit surprising that summary judgment was so readily granted in the case. The panel played out a variety of alternatives to quitting, but those conclusions were not based on facts viewed in a light most favorable to Ames.
The EEOC seems to feel the same way -- the agency filed an amicus brief urging the Eighth Circuit to reinstate Ames' suit, The Associated Press reports.
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