Juror Number Mom: The Case for Better Breastfeeding Accommodations in Court

Juror Number Mom: The Case for Better Breastfeeding Accommodations in Court

When breastfeeding parents are called to jury duty, they often face a daunting trifecta of challenges. These are not just inconveniences; they are significant gaps that touch on broader themes of workplace equity, public health, and the effectiveness of our judicial system. 

A Landscape of Inconsistency

Imagine being a new mom, called up to fulfill your civic duties in the first months postpartum, only to find that the courts don’t understand or support new moms. Many breastfeeding jurors encounter a stark lack of knowledge about their needs, and sometimes, ironically, their legal rights, which leads to inadequate support for exemptions or necessary breaks for pumping.

I connected with Melissa*, a member of our Sarah Wells Bags community, who shared her recent experience with the jury selection process:

“When I called the Jury Duty office, I was told they couldn’t accommodate pumping if I were selected. After seeking a medical exemption, I was stunned when my pediatrician refused to write a letter, noting my son would be over one year old and implying that breastfeeding should no longer be a primary need.”

Aside from the fact that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding until age 2 or beyond, anyone familiar with the physiology of breastfeeding knows you cannot just pause it without consequences. “It is not only detrimental to milk supply to go several hours or a whole day without pumping or nursing, but it can also cause painful engorgement, clogged ducts and mastitis, which could result in more serious medical issues and illness in the parent” said International Board Certified Lactation Counselor (IBCLC), Devastasha Beaver. 

In the end, Melissa contacted her OB-GYN for a letter instead, who was willing to provide the exemption for medical reasons. She had to jump through numerous hoops for the exemption, which is not what she initially sought; she wanted to participate in the jury selection process with the necessary accommodations.

To Exempt, or Not to Exempt

In a recent poll conducted by Sarah Wells Bags among hundreds of breastfeeding parents, we found that approximately 75% want a breastfeeding exemption from jury duty, while 25% would prefer to serve, provided there are adequate lactation breaks and spaces.

The preference for a breastfeeding exemption is often driven by potential cofactors of being a new parent, such as the lack of cell phone use due to privacy and court rules, inhibiting communication with childcare providers, general lack of childcare for a young child and postpartum recovery concerns. However, many moms, particularly those with children aged one-year or older, indicated they would be comfortable serving on a jury while breastfeeding, but could not do so without adequate support from the courts.

Case In Point: the Courts Have More Work To Do

Charlotte*, who was scheduled for jury service shortly after her parental leave from work ended, shared with me the hurdles she faced actually pumping at the courthouse. Despite proactive measures to obtain necessary accommodations, she encountered systemic inefficiencies:

“I had to get permission from the Clerk of Court to bring my pump and cooler, as there was no information available on how to receive accommodations. After a convoluted process involving emails and identity checks, I was awkwardly told, not asked, when to pump in a supposedly 'private' boardroom where a clerk barged in on me, questioning the duration of my pumping.”

This intrusion and lack of privacy not only compromised her comfort but underscored the lack of preparedness and respect for breastfeeding jurors’ needs. Charlotte’s ordeal is a clear indication of the gaps that still exist in the system, even when accommodations are made. 

Federal Laws and Local Gaps

The "Fairness for Breastfeeding Mothers Act of 2019" mandates that federal agencies, including federal courthouses, make available non-bathroom lactation rooms for public use. Yet, this federal mandate doesn't trickle down to state and local courthouses which are bound by their own set of laws in each jurisdiction. 

Further, the lack of breastfeeding education and support found in many local courts doesn’t only impact jurors, but is often a barrier for new moms working in the courthouses too. 

Jeanne*, a trial attorney from North Dakota, shares a poignant example of these challenges. Despite informing the court of her needs before trial began, the accommodations were inadequate during a particularly grueling two-week trial, and these conditions, combined with personal emergencies, highlighted the impact of inadequate support:

"When we called the courthouse to map out where I would be permitted to pump we were told nobody had ever asked that question before and so I could use the public restroom, accessible to all jurors and everyone else in the courtroom. To her credit, the judge caught wind of this and agreed that this was not an acceptable accommodation. The courts ended up allocating me 15-minutes to pump and a conference room with a locked door with no sink for cleaning my hands or pump parts. Also, the room was far from the courtroom so getting there and back further cut into my 15-minutes of breastfeeding break.

On top of these hurdles, my son ended up in the emergency room with Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV); between holding him upright at night so he could breathe and conducting the trial work, I didn’t sleep for 3 days. It’s an experience that won’t ever leave me. At this time, there aren’t any laws in my state that directly address this issue. I have since contacted facilities administration and hope to make a change in the courthouse for other moms, but it will be slow going for sure.”

The Jury's Still Out On Breastfeeding Support

The American Bar Association (ABA), a voluntary association of lawyers and legal professionals, has taken steps to address these issues within the legal profession, calling for, "Reasonable and accessible accommodations for lactating individuals... including one ‘off the clock’ 30-minute break every three hours; a private or semi private place to pump that is not a bathroom; and clear signage directing people to the accommodation area." Furthermore, in the resource section below, you can find a snapshot of local efforts from motivated individuals and groups hoping to make a change.

Addressing lack of breastfeeding awareness, accommodations and simple exemption processes in state and local courts requires advocacy from the whole community including changes to the jurisdictional laws through the initiative of elected officials and pressure from legal associations and the breastfeeding community. Breastfeeding parents should not have to choose between their health, their child's well-being, and their civic duties. As a society, it's our responsibility to ensure they don't have to.

Check out these recent news articles and efforts to make a difference on this topic:

Fairness for Breastfeeding Mothers Act

Federal Buildings Must Now Provide Lactation Space For Breastfeeding Mothers

Commissioner Lesley Briones Celebrates Enhanced Support for Mothers with Installation of Lactation Pods Donated by Houston Bar Association

New courthouse measure provides relief to nursing moms

... and don't forget to pre-order your copy of Sarah's forthcoming book, Go Ask Your Mothers: One Simple Step for Managers to Support Working Moms for Team Success!

 

* It's my practice to change the names of mamas who submit their stories to ensure this remains a safe space to share, thanks!

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