On April 30, a local online news source for Port Allegheny, Pennsylvania posted a congratulatory notice for Bobbi Bockoras: "Bobbi Bockoras welcomed a healthy baby girl into the world April 29, 2013. Lyla Elaine weighed in at 7lbs, 10ozs. and was 21.5 inches long. She joins her brother, RJ." Six months later, Lyla and her mother are at the center of a new complaint filed on their behalf by the American Civil Liberties Union, fighting for Bobbi's right to pump breast milk.
Bockoras works for the Saint Gobain Verallia glass factory, and the complaint filed by the ACLU alleges that she was discriminated against for needing to pump breast milk for her baby. When she told her bosses that she needed to pump, she was given options that weren't safe, private, or clean enough to do so — like the bathroom, or a room where male coworkers frequently interrupted her. "I never thought that I would be punished on the job for doing what I feel is best for my baby," the ACLU press release quotes Bockoras as saying. "Rather than help me follow my doctor's recommendations, I believe my employer ignored its legal obligations, allowed me to be bullied and harassed, and then retaliated against me for standing up for my rights. No employee should have to go through that."
This is all apparently illegal under a provision of the affordable care act. In addition to providing people with affordable health insurance irrespective of their pre-existing conditions, Obamacare apparently also requires employers to provide hourly employees with unpaid breaks to pump breast milk, and a clean space — not a bathroom — to do so. And, smartly, it makes it illegal to discriminate against employees who complain if their rights aren't being fulfilled. Hence the lawsuit: not only was Bockoras not given what she was entitled to under the ACA, but she was also punished for complaining.
Bockoras wrote a blog post about her experience for the ACLU. In it, she detailed what she went through to pump at work:
When I returned to work, I was placed on the day shift so that I could take the breaks I needed and I could maintain my pumping schedule. But in the room my employer gave me to pump in, I was constantly interrupted by my male coworkers pounding on the door and harassing me. When I complained, each alternative my employer offered was worse than the last – for example, a room that was made almost entirely of glass that offered no privacy, a shower room, a room with no way to lock the doors... You get the picture. I eventually agreed to use an old locker room, even though it was filthy, because at least it had a lock on the door – and they said they'd clean it up. But when I showed up to pump there a few days later, I found that the room had not been cleaned: it was covered in dirt and dead bugs, the floor was unfinished and had large patches missing from it, and there was no air conditioning – which is serious, because temperatures can get up to 106 degrees on the factory floor. The only furniture in the room was a single chair. I was completely disgusted, but what could I do? I only had a short break before I had to be back on my shift, and my baby has to eat, so I pumped there anyway. Even though I complained that it was filthy, the company did not have it cleaned. To make matters worse, shortly after that, someone took the chair from the room, which is how I found myself pumping on the floor, with dead bugs for company.
Yikes. The company then placed Bockoras on the rotating shift, which frequently required her — the mother of a few month old baby — to work an overnight shift. (Remember — that's illegal, too!)
We'll be following the developments in this case closely. Meanwhile, Tweet at us and let us know if you've experienced similar discrimination on the job.
Photo via Flickr user nerissa's ring.