Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Mother sues Spokane County judge over inadequate breastfeeding accommodations

Posted By on Wed, May 16, 2018 at 4:06 PM

click to enlarge CATHERINE D'IGNAZIO PHOTO
  • Catherine D'Ignazio photo

A mother is suing Spokane County District Court Judge Richard Leland nearly two years after quitting her job as an accounting technician. Holly Schmehl says in the lawsuit that Leland did not provide her breastfeeding accommodations she was legally entitled to.

"It was OK if people walked in on you. That was the standard," Schmehl says. "That doesn't mean people were OK with it, but they just didn't fight it. The room was never free from intrusion."

The lawsuit filed in Spokane County Superior Court accuses Leland and Spokane County of violating the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, which requires certain employers to provide nursing mothers with breastfeeding accommodations that are shielded from view, free from intrusion and are not a bathroom.

The lawsuit says Leland, acting in his personal capacity and not a judge, "repeatedly and unreasonably" prevented Schmehl from having access to a private place to pump breastmilk and questioned her about "her intentions to remain in the county's employment."

Leland declined to comment, citing the active lawsuit. Keller Allen, the attorney representing the county, did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

In a legal claim (a precursor to a lawsuit) filed in February of 2017, Schmehl lays out the difficulty she had in finding a private place to to express breastmilk, including multiple instances of people walking into the room (or trying to) during the middle of a session.

The intrusions, coupled with pushback from Leland, Schmehl says in a previous interview with the Inlander, caused her to skip pumping sessions. Eventually, the amount of milk she was able to express decreased by half.

A year after Schmehl filed her initial claim, in February of this year, Spokane County announced the opening of a designated nursing room in the basement of the Public Works Building.

"The room has recently been remodeled to include two comfortable chairs, [a] sink, easily accessible electric outlets and privacy curtains," according to a news release from the county.

Jared Webley, a spokesman for Spokane County, says "the county is committed to helping mothers who are trying to find that work-life balance." He adds that in addition to the nursing room, the county has purchased a Mamava Lactation Pod, which is a free-standing booth moms can use to nurse or pump, similar to those found in airports and shopping malls. It's currently set up in District Court, Webley says.
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