American Civil Liberties Union’s D.C. chapter is taking the Smithsonian Institution to task for regularly violating the rights of nursing mothers.
In a letter Wednesday to Smithsonian Secretary David Skorton, the nonprofit organization, along with the D.C.-based First Shift Justice Project, states that at least two Smithsonian museums have failed to provide adequate spaces and privacy in the workplace where nursing women can pump breast milk.
According to the ACLU-DC and First Shift, the lack of such provisions are representative of “a persistent theme of management indifference and lack of knowledge about lactation accommodation requirements under federal law.”
“The federal government has recognized the health benefits of breastfeeding and passed the Reasonable Break Time for Nursing Mothers Act to advance that priority,” said Jennifer Wedekind, ACLU-DC staff attorney. “Despite this, new mothers frequently return to work and face substantial obstacles to breastfeeding when their employers fail to provide a private, clean, secure location to pump breast milk.”
The letter states that since the museums have no formal policy regarding workplace accommodations for nursing mothers, the women have been subjected to pumping breast milk in bathrooms while having their breasts inadvertently exposed to coworkers who walk in on them
Despite federal law which requires employers to provide a secure, private place for women to pump breast milk, the women claim they’ve had to pump in spaces where there are no amenities such as an electrical outlet or a table to place their equipment.
“Women who request accommodations to pump at work should not be left by their employers to fend for themselves,” said Laura Brown, executive director of the First Shift Justice Project. “This is tantamount to a denial of their right to pump and will significantly deter women from breastfeeding after they return to work. Just like any other law which affects a business, it is the employer’s responsibility to take affirmative steps to ensure its workplace is compliant.”
Smithsonian spokeswoman Sarah Sulick said the organization had received the letter and have already began making concessions.
“We’ll be making the appropriate spaces available in every one of our buildings,” Sulick told The Informer. “We’ll also be following up to make sure everyone understands what accommodations have to be made.”