Wal-Mart Wants Claims Over Breast-Feeding Moved to Federal Court

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By Patrick Dorrian

Wal-Mart says a new mom who alleges supervisors harassed and retaliated against her for pumping breast-milk at work and complaining about their mistreatment must pursue her bias claims in federal court ( Bacila v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. , W.D. Ark., No. 5:17-cv-05123, notice of removal 7/3/17 ).

According to Rebecca Bacila, she was told she was spending too much time in the lactation room at Wal-Mart’s headquarters in Benton, Ark., and was made to leave a note on her desk, “in clear view” of her colleagues, when she was on break pumping breast milk. She says she later was required by supervisors to write her breast-pumping schedule on a large white board that was visible to all employees.

The harassment about her taking breaks to express breast milk became so bad, Bacila says, that she ultimately resorted to taking her laptop with her into the lactation room so she could continue working.

Bacila complained, and supervisor Isabel Fang angrily told her she had 60 days to find another job within the company, Bacila alleges. She and her personal belongings were promptly escorted out of the building, according to her court complaint.

The only other position she was ever offered was a late-night, temporary hourly position for which she was overqualified and that clashed with her responsibilities as a new mom, Bacila says.

Wal-Mart’s treatment of Bacila contrasts with a that of a male employee, who was permitted to leave the office for two hours a day to use the gym and run errands, the complaint states. The male employee was never harassed or disciplined for his use of break time, Bacila says.

Wal-Mart Wants Case Heard in Federal Court

Bacila sued the retailer June 9 in state court in Arkansas. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. responded July 3 by filing a petition to remove the case to a federal court in the state.

Regarding its bid to have Bacila’s case heard in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas, Wal-Mart said July 5, “We think this is the proper forum to hear the matter.”

In June, the company responded to Bacila’s state court filing by touting the accommodations it provides for nursing mothers.

“We are committed to supporting mothers who breastfeed their children and do not tolerate discrimination for using our lactation rooms,” said the statement, which was provided to Bloomberg BNA in a July 5 email. “We are proud to have nearly 50 privacy stations across our home office campus, including at least one station in every building, and we continue to add them where we can. We have reviewed Ms. Bacila’s claims and have been unable to verify them.”

This is the second time in the past five years that Wal-Mart has been accused by a worker of breast-feeding-related employment bias in a case that was either brought in or removed to federal court, according to Bloomberg Law dockets.

Bacila’s complaint includes claims of sex and disabilities bias and retaliation under federal and state law. She also sued under the Affordable Care Act and an Arkansas breast-feeding rights law for violations of her right to express breast milk privately.

Joshua L. Bailey of the Hogue Law Firm in Fayetteville, Ark., represents Bacila. No attorney had filed an appearance for Wal-Mart.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Dorrian in Washington at pdorrian@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bna.com

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