ACLU announces breastfeeding settlement with Jeffco school claiming it did nothing wrong

Heather Burgbacher image.jpg
Heather Burgbacher.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado announced today that it has reached a settlement with a Jefferson County charter school that allegedly refused to renew a teacher's contract after she complained about a lack of breastfeeding accommodations. The ACLU and the woman at the center of this case say it's a landmark settlement that sends a clear message that employers have to follow laws and provide basic support for breastfeeding mothers.

The school, however, says the allegations are false and the ACLU's presentation of the settlement is completely inaccurate.

"I'm proud of the school for taking steps and making sure nursing mothers in the future feel more welcome and supported," says Heather Burgbacher, a former teacher at the Rocky Mountain Academy of Evergreen, or RMAE, a public charter school that made it difficult for her to pump breast milk at work and then didn't renew her contract when she complained about it -- at least according to the lawsuit she filed with the help of the ACLU of Colorado. "I hope that other employers can take what happened here and try to institute...policies...so there is support not just at my school...but all across the nation."

Burgbacher, who's 37 and has two daughters, ages two and four, was a technology teacher and coordinator at the school when she had her second daughter. She needed to pump for twenty minutes, three times each week.

The ACLU says the school violated the 2008 Colorado Nursing Mothers Act by failing to provide Burgbacher a private place to pump breast milk and neglecting to take appropriate measures to assist her in covering classes for the time periods she needed for this activity.

The act, officially called the Workplace Accommodations for Nursing Mothers Act, says employers must make "reasonable efforts to accommodate an employee who chooses to express breast milk in the workplace."

An attorney with the ACLU sent us the legislative declaration supporting the act, which notes health and developmental benefits of breastfeeding for babies and mothers:

In addition to individual health benefits, providing opportunities for breastfeeding results in substantial benefits to employers, including reduced health care costs, reduced employee absenteeism for care attributable to infant illness, improved employee productivity, higher morale and greater loyalty, improved ability to attract and retain valuable employees, and a family-friendly image in the community.

"Women in this state do not have to choose between breastfeeding a baby and returning to work," says Rebecca Wallace, staff attorney at the ACLU of Colorado. "That is important for so many reasons.... We want women to be able to make personal decisions about childbearing without their employer and especially when their employer is the government."

She adds, "Many women are mothers and women are an essential part of our workforce."

The ACLU says that in the settlement, on view below, the school agreed to make significant policy changes to make sure women who are nursing have the time and place to express breast milk. The settlement also includes monetary compensation for Burgbacher -- with the exact amount redacted in the document sent our way.

Heather Burgbacher image.jpg
Courtesy of Jenny Davies-Schley
Burgbacher and her daughter.
Among a handful of provisions, the settlement says the school will provide explicit written notice to employees regarding their rights under the Nursing Mothers Act, as well as a private room for breast milk expression. The settlement also says the school will designate a human resource manager in charge of assisting employees in coordinating pumping breaks.

"It is a right just like any other right," says Burgbacher, who lives in Confier and now works as an instructional designer at Pearson Education in Centennial. "Knowing that something so natural can't be held against you is just essential to having that work-life balance. You can choose to do both and be successful. Knowing this will help other mothers make the decision to breast feed or not.... I'm just so happy."

Wallace says this settlement should serve as a model in Colorado.

"We hope it will lead employers across the state to improve working conditions for working mothers," she says.

"The settlement is really the first of its kind," she adds, noting that this is the first time in Colorado that there has been a settlement under this act in response to a legal complaint.

Continue reading for the response from the school, which denies all allegations in the lawsuit.

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