The Supreme Court of Massachusetts made a pretty groundbreaking decision last week. In their own words:
“The condition of lactation is inextricably linked to pregnancy and thus sex linked. The fact that a women is no longer pregnant when she is nursing or pumping matters not as lactation is a natural incident of pregnancy.” That means…
Massachusetts now recognizes that breastfeeding discrimination is gender discrimination.
You and I have known forever that pregnancy and breastfeeding are linked to sex and gender, but U.S. Civil Rights Law has barely woken up to this fact. I wrote about this in Why Breastfeeding Discrimination is Legal–the most meaningful way that women can be protected from breastfeeding discrimination is if courts recognize that it’s part of gender discrimination–but judges seem to have a really hard time with that because they view breastfeeding as a “choice” and not as something tied to being a woman. As the Massachusetts Supreme Court put it:
But the Massachusetts Supreme Court goes there, “Our decision in the context of the equal rights act and public accommodation statute counts, that lactation is a sex-linked classification, recognizes that there remain barriers that prevent new mothers from being able to breastfeed or express breast milk.”
Thank you. I know it’s obvious to most of us, but thank you, Supreme Court of Massachusetts for recognizing it!
It’s a big deal that the Massachusetts Supreme Court has unanimously recognized that breastfeeding discrimination is gender discrimination. This extends a new level of protection from discrimination to breastfeeding mothers in Massachusetts and it will have a positive impact in other states too.
The Supreme Court of Massachusetts came to this new point of view in the context of the case Sophie Currier v. National Board of Medical Examiners. The basic facts of Dr. Currier’s case:
“In 2007, when Dr. Sophie Currier’s daughter, Lea, was four months old and still exclusively breast-fed, Sophie requested extra break time during an all-day medical licensing exam to pump her breasts. The test’s overseers, the National Board of Medical Examiners, said no, that breastfeeding was not federally recognized as a legal disability and therefore could not be accommodated.”–from Behind Breastfeeding Victory: ‘Motherhood And Career Collided’ by Carey Goldberg (WBUR, 4/20/12)
Dr. Currier sued to get pumping break time, and she won break time for her exam in an excellent 2007 opinion by Judge Katzmann, but that didn’t do much good for other breastfeeding medical students or mothers in general, because the 2007 opinion only applied to Dr. Currier and the NBME refused to change its policy for other test-takers.
So Dr. Currier continued the legal fight after her exam and took the issue to the Supreme Court of Massachusetts–she did this to change the law for other women’s benefit with no possible gain for herself.
And for that, I have to say:
Thank you, Dr. Sophie Currier