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Lawsuit alleges EWU Police Department prevented officer from pumping milk for her new baby

December 16, 2018

A former Eastern Washington University police officer is suing the school, alleging supervisors discriminated against her and violated federal law by imposing restrictions that made it impossible for her to pump milk for her baby.

Maria Fell joined the EWU Police Department in July 2016 and went on maternity leave in fall 2017, according to her lawsuit filed in October in Spokane County Superior Court. The lawsuit alleges that when Fell returned to work in February, she was treated differently than coworkers “based upon her gender” and “based upon her status as a new mother.”

The lawsuit alleges Fell was required to complete an additional three months of on-the-job training, unlike other officers who had taken time off. During daily work breaks, when she went home to pump breast milk, she was required to remove her police gear, take her personal vehicle and count commute time as part of her breaks, while other officers were not subjected to the same requirements, the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit alleges those requirements violated the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, which was updated in 2010. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the law requires that employers “provide a nursing mother reasonable break time to express milk after the birth of her child,” as well as a private place to do so.

Fell quit the police department in early March because she was unable to feed her child given those parameters, the lawsuit alleges. She is represented by Spokane attorney Kammi Mencke Smith.

Deputy Chief Jewell Day said the police department couldn’t comment on pending litigation.

A similar lawsuit was filed earlier this year against Spokane County and District Court Judge Richard Leland. The plaintiff in that case, Holly Schmehl, is a former District Court accounting technician who quit her job in 2016, alleging the judge had “repeatedly and unreasonably” prevented her from accessing a private place to breastfeed.

The county has since purchased a Mamava Lactation Pod, a free-standing booth that offers privacy for nursing mothers, similar to those found in airports and shopping malls.

Last year, Spokane City Hall dedicated a room on the fourth floor for nursing mothers. It has two chairs with a privacy curtain in between, as well as a small fridge and an attached restroom.

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