Court advances KFC employee's claim that lactation room wasn't private
- A federal district court has refused to dismiss a former KFC franchise employee's lawsuit alleging that she was forced to pump breast milk in a bathroom, and then in an office that was not private (Lampkins v. Mitra QSR, LLC and Mitra QSR LLC, No. 16-647-CFC (D. Del., Nov. 28, 2018)).
- Autumn Lampkins, an assistant restaurant manager trainee at a Delaware franchise, sued Mitra QSR, which, according to its website, is the 4th largest domestic franchisee of KFC restaurants. She alleged gender discrimination and wage and hour violations, all stemming from her lactation accommodation arrangement. Her employer discouraged her from pumping and also demoted and transferred her, so that "it would be easier" for her. And, after first being required to pump in a bathroom, Lampkins alleged she was given access to an office that had a video camera that could not be turned off and a window through which co-workers could — and did — watch her. She also alleged that her supervisor did work in the office while she pumped.
- The court granted summary judgment to the employer on Lampkins' Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) claim but refused to dismiss her sex discrimination claim.
The FLSA has required since 2010 that employers with 50 or more employees provide non-exempt employees reasonable break time to express breast milk for one year after a child’s birth. Employers must designate a space, that is not in a bathroom, where employees can pump. The area must obscure the nursing mother from view.
Employees don’t have to pay employees for these breaks, but if an employee uses her paid break time for these breaks, then the employer must compensate that time. Many states also provide additional protections.
In Lampkins, the court said it dismissed the plaintiff's FLSA claim because the law doesn't provide relief for previous violations of its "designated space" requirement. Instead, it only allows employees to recover back minimum wage and overtime, if applicable, and that wasn't the case in Lampkins.
It's notable, however, that the court allowed her claims to proceed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; a reasonable jury could find that she was subjected to harassment based on her sex, it said.
Additionally, even employers that believe they would face little exposure in lactation claims may find that employee retention and morale are worth the effort. Millennial moms expect to be able to pump in the workplace, experts say, and in a study conducted this year, 47% of new moms said they had considered a job or career change because of their need to pump at work.