Charlotte Personal Injury Attorney Matthew R. Arnold of Arnold & Smith, PLLC answers the question “Can my employer fire me because I filed a workers’ compensation claim?”
A mother-of-two who was ordered to breastfeed in a supply closet at work has settled a sex harassment lawsuit she brought against her employer.
The woman—Monica Van De Pitte—said a picture of a cow was taped to the door of the supply room at the Lake Oswego, Oregon-based Velocitel, a wireless network company. The picture was posted after coworkers “mooed” at Van De Pitte and others who were breastfeeding at work, and was meant to direct her and other mothers where to go to breastfeed at the office.
A coworker told Van De Pitte that others in the office thought breastfeeding was “gross.”
Van De Pitte said she explained to her bosses when she was hired that she would need a private place to breastfeed her young son, but that the “mooing” and “colleagues openly bragg[ing] about their sex lives” affected her so much that she struggled to produce enough milk to feed her son once she was alone in the room.
Van De Pitte ultimately resigned from her position in 2013 and filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the company.
In recent decades, employers in the United States have implemented workplace conduct policies—including bans on sexual harassment—in an effort to provide pleasant work environments for employees and to minimize the risk of incurring liability for violation of state or federal employment laws.
Most sexual harassment policies are set out in broad terms, citing Section 703 of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or state-law analogs of Title VII. The Civil Rights Act deems “Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal and physical conduct of a sexual nature” to be sexual harassment, when submitting to such behavior is made a condition of employment, when an adverse employment decision is made as a result of an employee’s decision to reject or submit to such treatment, or when the harassment creates “an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment.”
Van De Pitte alleged in her lawsuit that she was surrounded by intimidating, hostile and offensive conduct while working at Velocitel.
One coworker, dubbed “The Walking HR Violation,” regularly demeaned female coworkers by pretending to “honk” or squeeze their breasts. When Van De Pitte complained to her superiors about the man’s conduct, her bosses told her that she should “privately reflect on why sexual conversations made her uncomfortable.”
Van De Pitte, like other employed mothers, enjoyed the rights both to breastfeed and to be free from sexual harassment.
Section 4207 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Act—also known as “Obamacare”—requires employers to provide break time for hourly paid workers to breastfeed children. Employers must provide a “reasonable” amount of time and must provide a space other than a bathroom for breastfeeding. The section only applies until an employee’s child reaches the age of one year.
The amount of Van De Pitte’s settlement with Velocitel was not disclosed.
If you or someone you know has been injured as a result of someone’s negligent or intentional conduct, please do not hesitate to contact me to set up an appointment today. If you or someone you know has any questions regarding potential personal injury claims, feel free to contact the experienced personal injury attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC in Charlotte, North Carolina for a free consultation. Call toll free at (955) 370-2828 or click here for additional resources.
About the Author
Matthew Arnold is a Managing Member of Arnold & Smith, PLLC, where he focuses on the areas of family law, divorce, child custody, child support, alimony and equitable distribution.
Mr. Arnold was raised in Charlotte, where he graduated from Providence Senior High School. He attended Belmont Abbey College, where he graduated cum laude, before attending law school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on a full academic scholarship.
In his free time, Mr. Arnold enjoys golfing and spending time with his wife and three children.
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