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Sex Discrimination Damages Awarded to Los Angeles Worker Fired for Breastfeeding

August 24, 2009

In a ruling by the California Fair Employment and Housing Commission (FEHC) last week, the owner of a Los Angeles, California taqueria chain was ordered to pay $46,000 in damages for sexual discrimination, after firing employee Marina Chavez for breastfeeding her infant during a work break.

Chavez was a cashier for Acosta Tacos, located in the Los Angeles area, and continued to work at the taqueria during her pregnancy. When the baby was born prematurely in April 2007, she took disability leave for four weeks, returning to find that her position had been replaced. Her only option was to work as a fill-in cashier, covering shifts for other employees. On the third night covering shifts, her boyfriend drove their infant son to her workplace, so Chavez could nurse the baby in the family car.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, after the company's general manager Jamie Acosta heard about the breastfeeding incident, he told Chavez that she couldn't come back to work until she was finished breastfeeding the baby. Chavez, the main supporter of her family, claimed that she couldn't wait that long to come back to work, and pleaded for her job. Acosta allegedly fired her on the spot, citing a bad attitude.

The Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) represented Chavez, prosecuting the case before the commission. The DFEH argued that Acosta's actions violated her civil rights, and that a working mother should not be punished for needing to feed her baby. Acosta was also accused of discriminating against Chavez by not securing her position during disability leave, and giving her only pick-up shifts from other employees when she returned to work. The FEHC guarantees that a pregnant woman who takes disability will still have her job when she returns back to work.

The commission ruled that breastfeeding on a worker's break time is protected under California law and firing a female employee for breastfeeding during her break is classified as sexual discrimination.

Acosta was found liable for sex discrimination, retaliation, and failure to prevent discrimination. The commission ordered Chavez to pay $21,645 in lost wages, $20,000 for emotional damages, as well as a $5,000 fine to the state for willful violation of civil rights. Acosta must also develop a written policy prohibiting sex and pregnancy discrimination in the workplace as well as train all employees and supervisors on the policy in both English and Spanish. A notice must be posted stating that the company violated the FEHC and was ordered to pay for the damages by the commission.

Since 2002, California Law requires that employers provide lactation accommodation to all California employees, with a reasonable amount of break time to breastfeed their children. A mother also has the right to breastfeed her child in any public or private location.

Acosta Tacos is a small company, with three taquerias in Inglewood and Hawthorne. According to reports, Acosta is considering appealing the ruling, but this could lead to bankruptcy because of the damage awarded to Chavez.

Taqueria Fined $46K for Firing Mom Who Breastfed, The New York Times/AP, August 21, 2009

Breastfeeding Incident Leads to Fine for California Operator, Nation's Restaurant News, August 25, 2009

Worker Gets Damages After Breastfeeding Firing, San Francisco Chronicle, August 24, 2009

Taqueria Fined $46K for Firing Mom Who Breastfed, The Fresno Bee/AP, August 21, 2009

Fired For Breastfeeding at Work, Mom, August 21, 2009

Related Web Resources:

The Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH)

California Fair Employment and Housing Commission (FEHC)

California Laws Related to Breastfeeding, California Department of Public Health

California Labor Code Section 1030-1033

If you are a victim of sexual discrimination or harassment in your Orange County or Southern California workplace, our experienced employment lawyers at Howard Law PC are here to help you fight for your rights. Call our Anaheim-based team today for a free consultation at 1-800-872-5925.