EVERGREEN, Colo. -- The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado and the ACLU Women’s Rights Project plan to file a lawsuit against a Jefferson County charter school after it said the school fired a teacher for pumping breast milk during school hours.
Heather Burgbacher taught technology at the Rocky Mountain Academy of Evergreen for the past five years.
"I can't believe this is happening in this day and age," said Burgbacher. "In my heart, I believe that I was not renewed because I asserted my right as a nursing mother and wasn't willing to let it go."
In late 2010, Burgbacher arranged for her students to do supervised deskwork for the brief periods during which she needed to pump breast milk -- which amounted to 20 minutes, three times each week, the ACLU said.
During discussions about her pumping schedule, one of Burgbacher’s supervisors informed her that RMAE would not accommodate her need to pump and suggested that she feed her baby formula instead, the ACLU said.
"Even though Burgbacher found coverage for her classes during these brief periods, her supervisors resisted this accommodation until forced to accept it through mediation," the ACLU said.
In February 2011, Burgbacher was informed that her contract would not be renewed even though she received consistently positive workplace evaluations, the ACLU said.
Her supervisor made clear that the termination was not due to Burgbacher’s job performance, but only because of the “conflict” over her pumping schedule, the ACLU said.
Burgbacher contacted the ACLU, who is now suing on her behalf.
“I was only trying to do what all medical experts agree is best for our baby. As a result I was bullied and had my rights violated. I just want to ensure that no other nursing mother -- especially in Colorado where we have a law meant specifically to protect us -- has to go through what I went through," Burgbacher said.
Jefferson County school district spokeswoman Lynn Setzer said Burgbacher wasn't retained because her position was changed from a technology teacher -- working with students -- to a technology advisor to staffers, and the school didn't think Burgbacher was a good fit for the new role.
"The teacher's separation from the school had nothing to do with this issue," said Setzer.
Burgbacher was an annual employee whose job is under review each year and is subject to change, Setzer said.
Also, Setzer said Burgbacher was offered an accommodation to fit her breastfeeding schedule and Burgbacher had been satisfied with that.
The ACLU isn't buying the school's explanation.
“All too often breastfeeding mothers experience harassment and discrimination when trying to pump breast milk during the work day,” said ACLU of Colorado attorney Rebecca T. Wallace. “But Colorado law explicitly states that no mother should have to choose between breastfeeding her baby and keeping her job. Yet that’s precisely the position in which RMAE placed Ms. Burgbacher.”
The ACLU filed a state notice of claim against the school -- signaling its intent to sue -- as well as a federal complaint of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
“Colorado’s state statute removes any doubt that working mothers have a right to pump breast milk at work,” said attorney Mari Newman, of Killmer, Lane & Newman LLP.
“Discrimination against breastfeeding mothers in the workplace is not only illegal, it’s also bad for Colorado families and businesses because it forces women to choose between breastfeeding their babies or returning to the workplace after giving birth.”
The woman's right to breastfeed is explicitly guaranteed by the Workplace Accommodations for Nursing Mothers Act, passed by the Colorado state legislature in 2008. The ACLU’s two legal filings invoke the protections of the 2008 statute, as well as federal laws against sex discrimination, pregnancy discrimination and retaliation for protesting such violations.
Burgbacher said she had no problem pumping milk for her first child at RMAE, but that it was under a different director.