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A report from the leader of the Nursing Mothers Law Project at the University of California, Hastings College of Law revealed the extent of the economic harm caused by employers who discriminate against breastfeeding women. An analysis of legal cases involving women who experienced workplace discrimination because of breastfeeding showed that two-thirds of them lost their jobs.

The discrimination involves employers denying women breaks to pump milk. These denials occur even when employees experience pain and milk leaks. Workplace barriers frequently forced women to stop breastfeeding or left them with painful infections. In some cases, requests for breaks resulted in job termination. Refusal to provide a clean and private location to use a breast pump represented another common form of discrimination as did an unwillingness to temporarily change work duties to accommodate the situation. Breastfeeding women also tended to experience increased harassment from co-workers who talked about their breasts.

A co-author of the report described how breastfeeding discrimination endangered women’s ability to earn income or build a career. Similar to sexual harassment and unequal pay, mistreatment of breastfeeding employees resulted in financial losses for women who had to choose between employment and feeding their babies.

Although laws exist to guarantee many women the right to take breaks for pumping milk, enforcement can be difficult. A person who wants information about his or her rights in the workplace could talk to an attorney about employment law. A lawyer might prepare a formal complaint about unfair treatment motivated by illegal discriminatory attitudes. If wrongful termination has occurred, then an attorney could open settlement negotiations or file a lawsuit. The efforts of a lawyer might inform an employer of illegal conduct and pressure the organization to compensate the victim for lost income or reinstate the person to his or her job.