A former Tuscaloosa cop won her discrimination case against the state police department after they demoted her and refused to find proper breastfeeding accommodations when she returned from maternity leave.
Stephanie Hicks first filed the lawsuit in 2013, and a federal jury ruled in her favor last year, agreeing that the department violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. The city appealed the ruling, but the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the verdict on Thursday.
Hicks started working in the force in 2008, and had glowing reviews until she left for maternity leave in 2012 for the birth of her first child. When she returned three months later, she was forced to pump in the locker room of the police station.
“Pumping in the locker room was awful,” Hicks told AL.com. “Sitting there by the shower stall, where the dispatchers and the public could walk in. Somebody was always asking what I was doing.”
Though federal law requires employers to provide women with a break to pump and “a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public,” Hicks said the department refused to find another location.
Then, when she would head downstairs to pump, she would often get a call on her radio from her coworkers telling her to “wrap those boobs up” and get back to work.
Prior to her pregnancy leave, Hicks was an investigator in the narcotics division before transferring to the less-hazardous pharmaceutical unit for the duration of her pregnancy. When she returned, Hicks received multiple write-ups for minor infractions, and was demoted from an investigator to the patrol unit, which left her with a lower salary, no car and a requirement to work on nights and weekends.
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Additionally, Hicks had to wear a bulletproof vest that hurt her milk production and made it tough to pump, and her department said her only options were to go without one or wear a looser-fitting vest that wasn’t as effective.
After her requests for a transfer to a desk job were denied, Hicks quit in January 2013, two months after returning from maternity leave.
“I felt defeated,” Hicks said. “Breastfeeding is hard enough in itself, especially your first time. You finally get the hang of it and then you face all these obstacles. And to have zero support, you feel almost embarrassed — like why am I even doing this?”
“So many people have reached out to me and said they were treated similarly, whether they were paramedics or teachers or bank tellers,” she said. “They all say the same thing: I was afraid, I couldn’t afford to quit my job, I didn’t want to be retaliated against. Fighting the system is very hard.”