The Philadelphia Police Department fails to give new mothers the time, space and privacy they need to continue nursing when they return to work, an officer said in a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday.
The sex and pregnancy discrimination suit said that despite legal mandates, the women are ridiculed, interrupted and sometimes forced to take leave to go home and pump.
“We come into work, we want to work, and we’re also trying to do the natural thing and nurse our babies,” lead plaintiff Janelle Newsome, 32, told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
She said she stopped nursing her 15-month-old son months earlier than planned because of the lack of support. She and fellow Officer Jennifer Allen said they had to pump in unsanitary locker rooms, borrowed offices or crowded lunch rooms.
The lawsuit, filed by lawyer Ian Bryson, accuses the department of violating city, state and federal laws that mandate accommodations for nursing mothers. About 22% of the city’s 6,500 officers are female. The department declined to comment Wednesday on the pending litigation, a spokesman said.
Allen is one of two women separately involved in a sexual harassment lawsuit pending against the city that led popular Commissioner Richard Ross to resign in August. The suit alleged he had failed to address their complaints because of his prior romantic relationship with the other plaintiff.
The 38-year-old Allen, a department veteran, didn’t even consider pumping at work when she had her older children a decade ago. But now, “older and wiser,” she hoped to breastfeed her third child for 18 months. She instead stopped just before his first birthday, frustrated by derogatory comments and harassment including the theft of pumped milk she had put in the refrigerator.
“I’ve heard several (female) supervisors say, ‘Well, we had to deal with it, what’s the difference?’ We should not have to deal with it. It’s not OK,” Allen said.
The 1964 Civil Rights Act was amended in 1978 to ban pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. Still, nearly 2,800 cases of alleged pregnancy discrimination were filed last year with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
“This is really important to me, for the future of female police officers,” Allen said. “I want them to be able to have that choice.”