A Rhode Island mom is suing the Ocean Community YMCA after they allegedly stopped her from breastfeeding in the facility on multiple occasions.
Elizabeth Gooding says YMCA employees told her that she was “not allowed to breastfeed” her 1-year-old child in the Kids Corner center over concerns that “young boys” would see her nurse. Denying mothers the right to breastfeed in public is a violation of Rhode Island law.
Gooding then spoke with staff and supervisors about the incidents, before meeting with Maureen Fitzgerald, the Ocean Community YMCA president and CEO, who reportedly denied Gooding’s request to retrain the staff on breastfeeding rights, and told her that she should be “more discreet.”
Gooding is a former employee of the YMCA in Westerly, Rhode Island, where she taught yoga classes for six years. The mom left her job at the facility after she was told she could no longer bring her child when she teaches her “Mother and Child” yoga classes. She is now suing the association with the help of the ACLU for discrimination.
The Ocean Community YMCA tells PEOPLE that they have no further comment beyond their statement shared with WPRI.
“The Ocean Community YMCA regrets that a former employee and member felt it necessary at this time to file suit against the YMCA for an incident that she alleges took place almost two years ago. The Ocean Community YMCA took affirmative steps at that time to address her concerns. The Ocean Community YMCA developed a policy on breast feeding in the workplace and provided education for its employees in this regard. The Ocean Community YMCA also created a private area for employees who choose to breastfeed , if they so desire to use it. The Ocean Community YMCA wants to assure the community that it does not restrict where members or program participants may breastfeed within the facility. The Ocean Community YMCA is confident that it is in compliance with federal and Rhode Island law in this regard and remains committed to the health, safety and welfare of its employees, members and program participants.”
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Gooding says the YMCA’s policy needs to change.
“This is my public appeal; asking that you help me legally and publicly pressure all YMCAs in the USA to correct what has proven to be an ongoing problem within their organization,” Gooding writes in an open letter posted on Facebook. “I am seeking not only policy changes nationwide but, just as importantly, justice and acknowledgement for every mother and child whose rights continue to be violated.”
“This suit is proof that people still need to be made aware that, in Rhode Island, public breastfeeding is a legal right,” ACLU volunteer attorney H. Jefferson Melish says.
Gooding includes a list of 48 other mothers who reported incidents where they were told not to breastfeed or to move while nursing at YMCAs in the U.S. and Canada.
“The YMCA should be supporting breastfeeding moms and their babies not deterring them,” she writes.
“I am speaking out for women who have been shamed, degraded, harassed, or otherwise prevented from nurturing their children by breastfeeding,” Gooding added in a statement released by the ACLU. “Following the extremely upsetting incidents of breastfeeding discrimination at the YMCA, I made a choice that I would take a stand in hopes of enacting effective change in support of one of our most natural civil rights. I encourage women who face breastfeeding discrimination not to be silenced but to raise your voice.”