Despite requirements and protections under both the Affordable Care Act and the laws of nearly 30 states, numerous mothers still find themselves wrongfully subjected to having to pump breastmilk in bathrooms.
Most of the time, this unsanitary and dangerous practice is forced upon women by employers. But for one nursing mom, the venue that made her pump in the bathroom was the government itself. More specifically, the Hennepin County Government Center in Minnesota, where Amanda Chandler had to report for jury duty.
"I was thankful for the chance to pump, but really could not believe that this bathroom was the best option for me," she told Today. "Was there really not an empty office or conference room anywhere?"
Chandler detailed her experience on Facebook in a March 14 post explaining how she felt there was a "lack of regard and dismissal [she] felt when trying to pump (express breastmilk) on a schedule."
The mom's post was shared over 1,500 times, with a slew of comments from women sharing their stories of being forced to do the same thing.
While she was told that being the primary caregiver of a young child wasn't a valid excuse to get out of jury duty, Chandler told Today that she spoke with a clerk "[who] with was very proud and excited to tell me about a new 'quiet room' which had recently been designed with nursing mothers [...] in mind." The first day Chandler along with two other moms used the room, calling it a "good day."
But when she came back for another day of service, she was placed on a jury - an experience that took so long that she missed an entire morning of pumping. When the mom was finally able to pump milk for her 2-year-old daughter that afternoon, a clerk led her to a unisex bathroom because "a female coworker used it to pump regularly." Chandler took a picture of the space, and put it on Facebook along with the following caption:
"This afternoon I was thankful to just finally be able to pump. Tonight I'm pissed. Seems pretty ironic that the very place which is supposed to uphold and enforce the laws would not follow or adhere to them."
The next day, after her Facebook post gained traction, Chandler was chastised by the judge on the case and dismissed from the jury.
The language of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is clear that employers must provide nursing mothers with a place "other than a bathroom" to express breastmilk.
While it could be argued that Chandler wasn't an "employee," and, therefore not covered by the ACA, Minnesota state law is even clearer on meeting the needs of nursing mothers. It explicitly says that "employer" includes "the state and its political subdivisions," which includes the court system.
For their part, Hennepin County released a statement to local station KARE that blamed the incident on poor staff communication.
“District Court has a quiet room on the 24th floor near our jury assembly room that was designed with nursing mothers in mind, which features a locking door for privacy, a sink and a chair," the statement read. "Through a miscommunication, which we regret, a jury panelist was not originally advised of the availability of this room. District Court strives to respect the physical and medical needs of all its jurors."
Chandler has since filed a formal complaint and hopes that other moms won't have to go through the same thing. "What I really want is for this to never happen again to another nursing mother," she told KARE. "Hopefully, by sharing my story, it will bring forward awareness of the issue and spark movement and motivation to change things."
Read Chandler's full Facebook post about the experience below: