Illinois Bar Exam Board Denies Breastfeeding Mother Necessary Accommodations to Take The Exam, Cause Moms Don't Need To Be Lawyers, Right?
If there was one organization that you would think would understand the law it would probably be the Bar Exam Board, given that they're the people who determine who gets to practice law and all. But apparently the Illinois Bar Exam Board is denying a new mother's request to breastfeed during the bar exam, despite the fact that Illinois law dictates that breastfeeding is permitted at any time, anywhere in the state. Which one would think included wherever the bar exam happens to be held, but apparently the Illinois Bar Exam Board thinks they are above such petty laws.
The whole thing started when Kristin Pagano made a few reasonable requests given that she expects to be breastfeeding at the time she is scheduled to take the bar exam. Pagano, who is certified to practice law in California but has recently moved to Illinois with her husband, is pregnant with a due date in the month before she is scheduled to take the Illinois bar. In anticipation of this, she requested a sanitary room in which to pump breast milk, access to refrigerated storage, an opportunity to take short breaks every two hours in order to pump, and extra time to take the exam to make up for time spent pumping. Pagano's requests were denied.
"Nursing, as I'm sure you are aware, is not a physical disability and therefore not covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act and would not require you to complete Non Standard Testing Accomodation forms," a letter Pagano received from the Bar Exam Board patronizingly explained. The board was gracious enough to allow Pagano to bring her pumping equipment to the test taking center and leave it with their staff for use during breaks, though they also stated they could not provide any space for her to pump except for "a family restroom."
They did however, offer to provide a chair. No additional time to take the exam, of course, but really, shouldn't the chair be enough?
Pagano was understandably very upset about the decision, and asked to appeal. She was told the decision was final. As a last ditch effort she asked if she could keep her equipment with her at her seat to pump during the exam, but the whole thing has left her very upset.
"All I’m thinking about is how I am supposed to complete (and pass) the exam if I have to physically leave the room every time I pump?" she said in an interview with Above the Law.
Do I really have to pump in an unsanitary bathroom (which could be on the opposite of the building)? Do I sacrifice my health (and my child’s) and sit there with painful, engorged, maybe even leaky breasts in order to complete the exam? If I am allowed to pump in the exam room, will the proctors be briefed about my rights ahead of time so I am not singled out and kicked out by an uninformed proctor? Will I be harassed or embarrassed by the proctors or other test-takers?
All very good questions.
It's worth noting again here that Illinois guarantees women the right to breast feed anywhere, anytime. But apparently that mandate isn't enough for the Illinois Bar Exam Board to consider nursing mothers worthy of reasonable accommodations. To say nothing of the fact that it's just plain wrong to force a woman to choose between taking the bar exam, which is necessary for Pagano to find work in her new home state, and doing what's necessary to care for her child and take care of her own body.
The fact that the Bar Exam Board doesn't already have some sort of procedure worked out for this possibility — which I can't imagine has never come up before — already is pretty bad. The fact that they seem utterly unwilling to make it possible for a nursing mother to reasonably complete the exam is even worse. It's basically barring breastfeeding women from becoming licensed attorneys, at least in the state of Illinois. And that is just beyond awful.