Teacher Who Lost Job Refused Suggestion to Switch to Formula
By Jacqueline Tourville
A teacher in Colorado will not be returning to the classroom this fall and it may be directly related to her decision to continue pumping breast milk for her baby after returning to work full-time. Heather Burgbacher, a five-year veteran technology teacher at a charter school in Evergreen, Colorado claims her contract was not renewed solely because she needed to take a few minutes away from the classroom during the school day to pump breast milk, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which is filing state and federal anti-discrimination claims on her behalf.
According to teacher Heather Burgbacher, when she was informed that her contract would not be renewed, her supervisor made it clear that the termination was not due to job performance, but only because of the “conflict” over her pumping schedule.
Back in 2010, Burgbacher says she approached the director of her school, letting him know that she would need 20 minutes three days a week to pump breast milk. Burgbacher arranged for her students to do supervised desk work for these brief periods and found someone to cover her classes during these times.
“He was receptive to the idea in August,” Burgbacher told Colorado’s 9News of her initial plan to pump during the workday.
A few months later, the other staff member could no longer cover Burgbacher’s classes. According to 9News, the teacher went to the school’s human resources director to arrange other accommodations for her pumping schedule, but instead, Burgbacher was told to use some of her time off [i.e., weekends and school vacations] to make up for her breastfeeding time. After resisting this suggestion, Burgbacher alleges the director told her to switch to baby formula.
Then in February, Burgbacher was informed that her contract would not be renewed. Her supervisor made it clear that the termination was not due to Burgbacher’s job performance, but only because of the “conflict” over her pumping schedule, a press release from the ACLU outlines.
“I still have days where I can’t believe this is happening at this day and age,” Burgbacher said (via 9News). “It’s not an employer’s place to dictate how I nourish my child.”
In response to the allegation, Jefferson County school district spokeswoman Lynn Setzer said Burgbacher wasn’t retained because her position was changed into a technology adviser to staffers and she wasn’t a good fit.
“These are completely new statements that they’ve made now that they know their under the gun,” ACLU Attorney Rebecca Wallace told 9News.
Protection for Pumping Moms
Whose side is the law on in this case? If what she says is true, it seems like Burgbacher has a good chance of emerging victorious. In Colorado, employers are required under the Workplace Accommodations for Nursing Mothers Act, passed by the state legislature in 2008, to make reasonable accommodations for new mothers to express milk at work. The ACLU filings on behalf of Burbacher also invoke the protections of 2008 federal laws against sex discrimination, pregnancy discrimination and retaliation for protesting such violations.
“Colorado’s state statute removes any doubt that working mothers have a right to pump breast milk at work,” said attorney Mari Newman, of Killmer, Lane & Newman, LLP, on behalf of the Colorado ACLU. “Discrimination against breastfeeding mothers in the workplace is not only illegal, it’s also bad for Colorado families and businesses because it forces women to choose between breastfeeding their babies or returning to the workplace after giving birth.”
Burgbacher’s reasoning for taking action against her former employer? “I was only trying to do what all medical experts agree is best for our baby,” she said in the ACLU release. “As a result I was bullied and had my rights violated. I just want to ensure that no other nursing mother – especially in Colorado where we have a law meant specifically to protect us – has to go through what I went through.”