A city police officer says that the department failed to give her proper break time to pump breast milk while nursing, pressured her when she took the legally protected breaks, and ultimately transferred her out of her precinct in September in retaliation for expressing breast milk on the job.
Simone Teagle has filed a notice of claim that says she will sue the city, Mayor Bill de Blasio and other officials for $5 million. The lawsuit, expected to be lodged in the next 60 days, will place the New York Police Department on the growing list of the nation’s workplaces sued for failing to protect and accommodate breast-feeding mothers, Teagle’s lawyer said.
The attorney, Eric Sanders, is also considering launching a class action suit against the New York Police Department. Multiple female officers have called him in recent days to complain about the lack of private, clean spaces to pump breast milk and about being denied proper break time.
Regardless of whether a putative class action is filed, Sanders made clear that more legal claims, similar to Teagle’s, will be levied on behalf of the women.
“This is a citywide problem,” he alleged during a Law Journal interview on Friday. “No police department facility has complied with the law.”
He added, “Just because you have someone who works for the police department, they don’t lose their constitutional rights.”
The city Law Department on Friday, responding to a Law Journal inquiry and various points alleged by Sanders, did not outright deny what Sanders and Teagle have claimed. The points sent by the Law Journal to the city included that Teagle continues to lack a private, clean space to express breast milk, and that lack of proper lactation spaces is a “citywide problem” found across station houses and police facilities.
Instead, Law Department spokesman Nicholas Paolucci provided a lengthy statement explaining that a new breast milk-pumping policy had been created by the police department this year, pointing to bulletins posted about the policy and how existing facilities should comply, and noting that newly built precinct buildings will have private rooms for expressing breast milk.
“The NYPD is committed to providing its employees with appropriate accommodations to express breast milk privately, comfortably, and in close proximity to work. The new policy was developed this year, and was circulated this summer on or about June 26, 2018,” Paolucci’s statement read, continuing, “The bulletin has been posted … [and it] was reissued as an administrative bulletin this week. Since the policy was circulated … the department has received four reasonable-accommodation requests. Most have been received within the last month and a half.”
It also said, “All new precincts being built will have a private room for employees to express breast milk. With respect to existing precincts, as the bulletin instructs, there must be a private room or an office identified that is not a bathroom, and which can provide an employee with the requisite privacy for them to be able to express breast milk. Furthermore, the NYPD is currently exploring additional locations at 1PP [One Police Plaza headquarters] for employees to express breast milk.”
Teagle’s problems allegedly started after she returned to work in January from maternity leave. As she began to take needed breaks inside the 113th Precinct to pump milk for an infant son, she began feeling ostracized by some fellow officers and superiors, she claimed. She also alleged she experienced backlash.
“They would look at me and roll their eyes. Or cut their eyes at me like, ‘Oh boy, here we go again,’” she told the New York Post this week. “Sometimes they wouldn’t even acknowledge me.”
She and Sanders also said she was relegated to unsanitary spaces to pump the milk, such as a basement locker room inside the Jamaica, Queens, station house. Other unclean and often non-private areas she used were the women’s bathroom, her car and a department vehicle.
The locker room, she told the Post, had “trash on the floor, mold on the walls, old newspapers” lying around and was “just horrible.”
Moreover, the same locker room recently had a sign posted in it warning of potential asbestos problems, Sanders said Friday.
Yet, as the notice of legal claim stated, under the Affordable Care Act employers are required to provide “a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.”
Teagle will also sue under New York State Labor Law Section 206-c, as it provides greater protections than the federal act in multiple ways, Sanders said.
By August, Teagle’s situation at the precinct house worsened, she told the Post. A supervisor demanded that she start listing her pump breaks in a place where everyone could see the list. And soon, she said, she started asking for fewer breaks than she needed. “I didn’t want to deal with the faces and the nastiness,” she told the Post.
In turn, according to Teagle and Sanders, she developed mastitis because she wasn’t pumping breast milk as much as she needed to. The condition is a painful breast-tissue inflammation that can involve severe swelling and an infection. She allegedly still suffers from it today.
Then in September, Teagle, 37, was “retaliated against,” when the police department transferred her to a new enforcement unit located in a different building, Sanders said.
He added, though, that “the place she’s been transferred to—they still don’t have the proper facilities,” and once again she is pumping in the bathroom, her parked car or another vehicle.
“They still ostracize her now,” he added of certain officers in the new building. “But she has gotten support from other female employees.” Now that she’s gone public with her claims, Sanders said, she is being allowed to take reasonable breaks because “they [superior officers] leave her alone.”
Sanders—who runs a solo civil-rights practice based in Manhattan—said that as he presses Teagle’s and other women’s lawsuits, he will rely heavily on state Labor Law. It gives more protections to employees, he said, adding that it is not preempted by the federal statute.
On Friday, Sanders spoke of Teagle’s mental outlook and of how she’s holding up. “She feels better now that her voice is being heard,” he said. “She gave [the NYPD] the opportunity to correct the situation, and it didn’t happen. Now she’s ready to fight.”