Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center Settles Breastfeeding Discrimination Claim against World Journal

LAS-ELC today settled a claim on behalf of To-Wen Tseng, a journalist for the Chinese-language newspaper World Journal who was allegedly denied legally mandated lactation accommodations at work. In addition, Ms. Tseng claimed that World Journal discriminated against her because she requested a private space to pump breast milk.

For example, Ms. Tseng alleged that the newspaper published anti-breastfeeding stories and made harassing, disparaging comments about her. During the period Ms. Tseng was attempting to pump at work, World Journal published a story “Hot Mamas Show Off Their R-rated Breastfeeding Photos, Embarrassing Chinese-Americans to Death,” which quoted several people calling breastfeeding photos “R-rated,” “disturb[ing],” and “disgusting.”

In another example, Ms. Tseng claimed that there was no nursing room in the company facility, so she had to pump in the restroom. She was then allegedly told by a colleague “don’t wash your dirty panties here” when she was washing the pumping accessories in the kitchen.

In addition to a monetary settlement, the agreement reached between the parties includes injunctive relief which requires the company to change its policies regarding lactation accommodations and to share these policies with staff in multiple languages. Moreover, all supervisors will be trained on the policy and how to respond to requests for lactation accommodations.  In this way, the settlement has a broader impact, potentially benefitting numerous working mothers at World Journal, the self-described largest Chinese-language newspaper in the United States.

This settlement is also significant in that the California Legislature recently affirmed that breastfeeding discrimination is illegal under California law. California has required employers to provide break time and private space (not a bathroom) for nursing mothers since 2002. The federal Affordable Care Act has mandated similar protections nationally since 2010.

Earlier this month, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued Enforcement Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination and Related Issues, the first comprehensive update of the Commission’s guidance regarding discrimination against pregnant and parenting workers in 30 years. The guidance clarified existing law, specifically stating that discrimination based on lactation is unlawful.

Health professionals and public health officials agree that breastfeeding is hugely beneficial to infant and maternal health. Infants who are exclusively breastfed tend to need fewer health care visits, prescriptions and hospitalizations, resulting in a lower total medical care cost compared to never-breastfed infants. And the benefits of breastfeeding also appear to stay with mothers for years to come, lowering risks of postpartum depression, cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Meanwhile, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 70.8 percent of mothers are part of the labor force, meaning they either have a paying job or are looking for one. It is therefore essential that lactation accommodations are available at work and that employees know about them.

“I was shocked by how my employer treated me as a breastfeeding mother”, said Ms. Tseng.  “No woman should have to choose between doing what is best for her baby and her job. Thanks to this settlement, other mothers won’t have to go through what I experienced.”

“I believe today’s settlement constitutes a major victory for working mothers by showing that employers cannot discriminate against breastfeeding workers or deny them legally-mandated accommodations”, said Julia Parish, an attorney with LAS-ELC who represented Ms. Tseng.  “The ability to continue to breastfeed after returning to work is essential to infant and maternal health, and we hope that other employers take note that they must follow the law and respect the rights of working mothers.”

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