HR Management & Compliance

Illinois Court Dumps Nursing Mother’s Breastfeeding Claims

By Kelly Smith-Haley, JD, Fox, Swibel, Levin & Carroll, LLP

A recent case from a federal court judge in Chicago provides a useful overview of certain statutes that rarely make headlines but nevertheless set the bar for nursing mothers. So dust off the breast pump, spruce up the office lactation room, and settle in for a refresher on Illinois employers’ obligations to nursing mothers.

Express yourself

In December 2013, Samantha Tolene was on Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave from her job with T-Mobile. She contacted her district manager, Nemanja Bulic, and told him that she wanted to transfer to a store closer to her house, work part-time, and take a voluntary demotion from a manager position to a sales associate. She didn’t mention that she needed a private space to express breast milk.

Bulic immediately tried to arrange for Tolene’s transfer and other requests. However, T-Mobile’s internal system prevented him from transferring her until she returned from maternity leave. For that reason, when Tolene returned from maternity leave on January 12, 2014, she returned to her original location, which was in Chicago, rather than a store closer to her house. She worked at the Chicago store on January 13 and January 14.

On January 16, she met with the manager for a store in Orland, which was closer to her house, to discuss her transfer and was told she could work at the Orland store but would still have to work full-time until the transfer was officially processed. During that meeting, Tolene didn’t tell the manager she needed a private place to pump while at work at the Orland store.

Milking it

After she met with the Orland manager, Tolene called the district manager, Adam Thurston, to tell him that she couldn’t work full-time even while the part-time request was being processed because she didn’t have child care. She did not, however, tell Thurston she needed a place to pump at the Orland store.

Tolene was scheduled to work at the Orland store on January 17. Shortly before her shift was scheduled to start, she texted the Orland manager to say she wasn’t feeling well and would tell Bulic, her manager at the Chicago store, that she would be absent. On January 18, Tolene once again failed to report to work, only this time she failed to call in beforehand. Later that day, Bulic texted her and said they needed to talk about her attendance.

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