After a conflict over her three 20-minutes pumping breaks a day, Shana Swenson's contract wasn't renewed.

By Libby Ryan
Shutterstock

A former teacher is suing her school district for allegedly firing her for taking too much time to pump breast milk.

According to the lawsuit, Shana Swenson took three 20-minute breaks a day to pump breast milk at Falmouth Elementary School in Portland, Maine but was told to reduce the amount of time she spent pumping. After she refused to cut down her nursing schedule, her contract was not renewed for the 2019 school year – after three years working for the school.

Falmouth Public Schools’ attorney Melissa Hewey denied the allegations.

“Ms. Swenson’s claim that the Falmouth School Department discriminated against her is false,” she said, according to Bangor Daily News. “In fact, Falmouth works hard to support employees who are parents by, among other things, providing mothers with paid time to breast feed and express breast milk during the school day.”

According to the lawsuit, while Swenson was working at Falmouth Elementary School, she said she kept to her body’s schedule, which didn’t necessarily match up to her lunch break, to avoid clogged milk ducts or mastitis. But coworkers complained and Swenson reported the criticism to her supervisor, highlighting the potential for discrimination. In May, she was told her contract would not be renewed.

There are federal laws in place to make sure new moms get plenty of time to breastfeed or pump. Nearly all employers are required to provide break time and a place to breastfeed that isn’t a bathroom, according to The Break Time for Nursing Mothers law.

The law isn’t specific on how long those breaks should be, but the Office on Women’s Health (a branch of the Department of Health) website notes most women pump two or three times a day and “it can take 15 to 20 minutes to express milk, depending on the woman and the age of the baby. This does not include time needed to get to and from the pumping space or the time needed to set up and then clean the breast pump attachments after pumping.”

Often this can fit into the paid time off in a normal work day, but according to the website, “If you need extra time beyond the standard paid break time, your employer might not pay you for that extra time. But if you’re covered under FLSA [nearly all workplaces in the U.S. are], your employer is required to give you the unpaid break time you need to express milk.”

The Office on Women’s Health has examples for employers uncertain how to handle breastfeeding moms in the workplace.

“Many employers allow women the flexibility to come in early or stay late to make up the time. Some employers allow women to adjust their meal break to make up time,” according to the office’s website. “Others do not track the extra time taken, since breastfeeding while working usually happens for less than a year.”

As for Swenson, she's still waiting to see the outcome of the lawsuit, which asks for damages and also asks the judge to create a new policy so that the same thing doesn't happen to any other nursing mothers.

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