By Katie Kerwin McCrimmon
A Grand Junction hair stylist is suing her former employer, alleging that he fired her instead of giving her breaks to pump breast milk for her baby.
Under both federal and state law, breastfeeding mothers are entitled to request breaks to pump their milk in privacy so they can keep breastfeeding their babies while continuing to work.
In order to maintain an adequate supply of milk, nursing mothers need to pump milk regularly when they are away from their babies.
The owner of Big League Haircuts, Kyle Reed, did not respond to requests for comment.
Ashley Provino had her first child in June of 2012. She said she was eager to keep breastfeeding her son when she returned to work when he was about six months old. She said she had worked at the shop for about three years prior to having her baby, but said her boss would not accommodate her.
“He really just didn’t understand it, so initially he told me ‘no,’ ” Provino said. “I thought maybe it would just blow over and would be accepted soon.”
At that point, she had to accept shorter 4-hour shifts.
Then, in February of 2013, when Provino sought full time work again, she said her boss fired her. She struggled to find work and has taken a new job for lower pay. She said it was important to her to keep breastfeeding for the health benefits for both her baby and herself, and for the bonding.
“It’s amazing,” Provino said. “A lot of young women give up.”
She said she hopes the lawsuit will show other women that they can continue to breastfeed and work.
“A lot of people think that if I pump or breastfeed, I can’t work. That’s not true. You can absolutely do both. My hope is to send a message to employers that women have a right to pump at work. They do not have to choose between working and breastfeeding,” said Provino.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado and the ACLU Women’s Rights Project filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court on Monday on Provino’s behalf. (To read the complaint filed in the Provino case, click here.)
ACLU staff attorney Rebecca Wallace said it’s stunning that employers still don’t understand the law and that some try to deny women the right to pump at work.
“It’s unfortunate that we continue to need to bring cases (regarding) this fundamental legal and moral issue,” Wallace said.
She said employers should not force women to choose between breastfeeding their babies and working.
“It’s not only wrong. It also alienates women. We need to banish that old-fashioned view,” Wallace said.
She said she and Provino’s other attorneys are seeking a jury trial so they can win monetary damages and meaningful policy changes for Provino. Wallace said they tried to seek a settlement with Reed, but that he did not respond. Wallace said at least one other mother was not allowed to pump during her shifts at Big League.
“We’re eager to get the facts of this case out to the public. We believe a jury will be outraged that a new mother who was a very good employee was treated this way simply because she wanted to continue breastfeeding her child,” Wallace said.
In 2012, Wallace successfully negotiated a settlement with a Jefferson County charter school on behalf of a former teacher who lost her job when she requested accommodations to express her breast milk at work. (Click here to read Former breastfeeding teacher wins settlement, concessions from school). Wallace also worked with DISH Network earlier this year to vastly improve accommodations for nursing mothers at the company’s corporate headquarters in Englewood following complaints from employees. (Click here to read: ACLU charges DISH with failing to support breastfeeding moms.)
Provino said it was a hard decision to decide to fight in court.
“A lot of people told me it’s not worth it. ‘Just don’t do it. Just let it go.’ ‘’ Provino said. “But it is worth it to me. It’s definitely my right as a woman. And other women have rights too. I just hope I can help them.”