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Riggan Law Firm Files Lawsuit Against Employer for Disallowing Nursing Mother from Expressing Breast Milk at Work

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In a recently filed federal court lawsuit, Riggan Law Firm, LLC, an employment law firm based in St. Louis, Missouri, asserted claims on behalf of its client, a nursing mother who alleges that her employer, Murphy Oil USA, Inc., disallowed her from expressing breast milk at work in violation of federal and state law.

The Plaintiff worked at a gas station in West Plains, Missouri. The following are some of the core factual allegations in the lawsuit:

-In or around June of 2013, Plaintiff informed Murphy Oil’s District Manager that she was pregnant;

-Soon after Plaintiff informed Murphy Oil of her pregnancy, a male manager was hired to manage Plaintiff’s work location;

-From the very beginning of his tenure, the male manager treated Plaintiff differently (and to her detriment) because of her pregnancy;

-The male manager refused to use Plaintiff’s name in the workplace, referring to her only as “the Pregnant One”;

-The male manager stated to other employees that Plaintiff’s pregnancy would negatively impact her work performance;

-The male manager engaged in crude and sexually harassing behavior in the presence of Plaintiff, including:

– making remarks about “jungle fever” in Plaintiff’s presence while pointing to an African-American customer;

– making degrading comments about a female customer’s body parts (breasts and buttocks);

– sending nude pictures of himself to co-workers.

-When Plaintiff was up for a promotion at work, Murphy Oil initially refrained from promoting Plaintiff once she found out she was pregnant, and first required a “promise” from Plaintiff that she would come back following her maternity leave, and the company told Plaintiff they “didn’t want to waste time” with her;

-On December 13, 2013, Plaintiff began her maternity leave;

-While she was on leave, the male manager repeatedly asked Plaintiff’s co-workers whether Plaintiff was coming back to work following her leave and expressed hope that she would not return;

-Plaintiff returned to work in February 2014 following two months of maternity leave;

-About a week before returning to work, Plaintiff advised Murphy Oil that she was nursing her child and would need an accommodation at work so that she could express (or “pump”) breast milk during her shifts, and specifically, she requested that she be allowed a break every 3 to 4 hours in order to express breast milk;

-Murphy Oil told Plaintiff explicitly that it would not accommodate her requests regarding breast pumping at work;

-Plaintiff made a complaint to Murphy Oil’s human resource department about the company’s unwillingness to accommodate her;

-Subsequently, the company seemed to backtrack some, and informed Plaintiff that they would talk upon her return to work and try to set out a schedule that worked for everyone;

-When Plaintiff returned to work from maternity leave, she reiterated to her male manager that she was nursing her child and that she would need breaks every 3 to 4 hours to express breast milk, to which the manager replied, “Don’t you have any saved?”;

-Despite Plaintiff’s request for accommodation, her male manager put her on six-hour shifts by herself with no coverage, and no ability, time, or designated place to express breast milk;

-Due to the lack of accommodations provided to Plaintiff by Defendant, Plaintiff was unable to pump at work and immediately started to experience discomfort and burning pain as a result;

-Concerned about her medical condition, Plaintiff consulted with her doctor to discuss the pain and engorgement she was experiencing due to her inability to express milk at work;

-Plaintiff’s doctor informed her that she had blocked milk ducts, and that they were likely a result of her not expressing milk as often as she should, and Plaintiff’s doctor instructed her that it was very important that she not miss/skip any pumping sessions;

-After consultation with her doctor, Plaintiff again informed Murphy Oil that she was not being accommodated in order to express breast milk, and that she could no longer work under these conditions because of medical difficulties this lack of accommodation was causing her;

-In response, the company reiterated that Plaintiff was not allowed to pump anywhere on Murphy Oil premises, including sitting in her personal vehicle in the company parking lot;

-The company put Plaintiff on “split shifts” (instead of six-hour straight shifts), with one hour in between the split shifts. Plaintiff was told that she could go home between the shifts, but that arrangement was unworkable because Plaintiff did not have time to drive home, effectively express breast milk, and drive back to work for the second shift;

-When Plaintiff informed Murphy Oil that the split shift arrangement was not accommodating her need to express breast milk, the company responded by putting her on a shift that required her to work three hours in the morning and three hours at night, with a seven hour break in between. That arrangement was also unworkable because Plaintiff’s husband is disabled, and Plaintiff is the primary caregiver of both her husband and their children;

-Other employees of the company were allowed to, and were able to, take breaks on company premises during their shifts (including but not limited to bathroom breaks, smoking breaks, etc.). Plaintiff, however, was prohibited from taking breaks during her shift in order to express breast milk on company premises;

-During this time, in response to Plaintiff discussing her aspirations of moving up in the company, a supervisor told her that she was “going nowhere in the company”;

-As a consequence of the company’s continued refusal to accommodate Plaintiff’s effort to express breast milk, she continued to experience severe pain and engorgement;

-In addition, Plaintiff’s breast milk production decreased over time because she was unable to express at work, and she was concerned that she might not be able to continue to nurse her child as a result;

-While Plaintiff tried everything she could to successfully nurse her child while employed by Murphy Oil (including taking medication, supplements and consulting with a lactation specialist), she was simply unable to continue to work for Murphy Oil as a consequence of the conditions created by the company. As a result, she resigned (was constructively discharged) on May 23, 2014.

The lawsuit alleges that Murphy Oil failed and refused to allow the Plaintiff reasonable break time to express breast milk and a private place for that purpose. The suit further alleges that the Plaintiff was retaliated against and constructively discharged for engaging in legally protected activity, in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. In addition, the suit alleges that Murphy Oil discriminated against, harassed, and constructively discharged Plaintiff in violation of the Missouri Human Rights Act, and failed to accommodate Plaintiff in violation of the Missouri Human Rights Act and Americans with Disabilities Act. Plaintiff seeks to recover declaratory relief; lost wages/benefits; damages for emotional distress, humiliation, and diminished employment status; liquidated damages; and punitive damages, as well as attorneys’ fees and court costs.

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