Our client Sarah Spriesch – a paramedic with the Chicago Fire Department (CFD) - was featured in a new report from the Center for WorkLife Law detailing discrimination against breastfeeding workers across the country. Sarah’s harrowing experience with pregnancy discrimination and her bravery in stepping forward led to a settlement and new policies governing how CFD treats pregnant employees and mothers who need to express breastmilk at work.
EXCERPT FROM THE REPORT:
FIRE DEPARTMENT EMT FACED RETALIATION FOR ASKING TO PUMP: “I BECAME THE BLACK SHEEP.”
Two months after her daughter was born, Sarah Spriesch reported for Chicago Fire Department retraining. Sarah asked to take a pumping break in between watching training videos.
Her supervisor responded, “what’s pumping?” and forbid her from leaving the classroom. After going eight hours since she nursed her daughter, she “finally had the guts” to speak with the fire chief.
“My shirt was soaked. I was in pain. And I tell him, by law I have a right to take care of myself.”
The chief said she would be considered AWOL if she left to pump, but a colleague pointed out that Sarah was entitled to a lunch break.
When Sarah returned from pumping in her car, she was forced to spend hours watching outdated training videos, while the other trainees were sent home early. “Why would these two guys get to leave early, but here I am, a new mom, stuck here, soaked through my shirt and bawling my eyes out?”
Things only got worse after that. She was given bad assignments at firehouses with “no women’s area, just guys’ locker rooms and a disgusting bathroom,” even though there were open spots at firehouses with appropriate facilities.
“The bathrooms I pumped in had old standing water, mousetraps, and bug traps. They were so dirty that I didn’t even want to keep the milk that I was pumping. And the only reason they were putting me in these places is because I stepped up and said something.” “I became the black sheep.”
“There were days I was afraid I’d get fired, or get messed with on the job. Some days I felt super strong, thinking ‘I can do this and they shouldn’t be treating women like this.’” After Sarah filed a lawsuit, the department changed its policies.
“It is a boys club, they drill into your head this is how things are. The only way it is going to change is if people start speaking up. There are laws to protect your right to breastfeed and there are laws to protect you if they try anything because you speak up.”