Stephanie Hicks, a police officer in Alabama, said she was demoted and forced to quit after she asked for desk duty while she was breastfeeding following the birth of her son in 2012.
She sued and last year a federal jury awarded her $374,000.
The City of Tuscaloosa appealed the verdict, but in September a federal appeals court sided with Stephanie. It was a major victory for working moms across the country.
Here’s what you need know about the case:
Since 1978, federal law protects pregnant women from discrimination. That’s when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was amended to include discrimination “on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.” That would seem pretty straightforward — but it’s not. Some judges have ruled that lactation is not related to pregnancy, and that firing a breastfeeding employee does not constitute sex discrimination.
Many courts have ruled that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act doesn’t require employers make special accommodations for breastfeeding employees. The Supreme Court weighed in on the issue with its 2013 decision in Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc. Ultimately, the court ruled that employers can’t deny breastfeeding workers accommodations it offers other employees.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, which covers Alabama, Georgia and Florida, recognized that fine line, arguing that what’s illegal is taking action against a breastfeeding employee like Stephanie who is asking for accommodations other employees have access to. In this case, Stephanie was asking for the same light duty a Tuscaloosa Police officer coming back from an injury would have been given.
An appeals court covering other states doesn’t automatically change the way Illinois judges must enforce federal laws. It does mean, however, that we can make a really strong argument against discrimination on the basis of breastfeeding. In other words, pregnant workers can rest a little easier.