Ex-factory worker had to express breast milk in dirty toilet stall, suit says

Steve Gonzalez Jan. 4, 2008, 12:43pm

Patricia Lee filed suit against the Swan Corporation in U.S. District Court Dec. 26, alleging her employer wrongfully discriminated her in violation of Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) because her employer required her to express breast milk in a dirty toilet stall.

According to the complaint, Lee delivered her first child on Oct. 18, 2005, and when she went back to work three months later had to express milk during breaks in "cramped, dirty, exceedingly hot conditions."

Lee claims she had her second child on Dec. 29, 2006. She claims during her pregnancies, she suffered from gestational diabetes and her primary treating physician ordered her to express breast milk as a way to treat her diabetic condition.

"Swan was aware that Lee was afflicted with gestational diabetes because she provided doctor's notes indicating same and advised Connie Hensley, Swan's personnel manager," the complaint states.

"Lee had to express milk in a cramped, non-air-conditioned plant female bathroom except for one week where she had to go into the unclean men's bathroom because the women's bathroom door was locked," the complaint also states.

According to Lee, her immediate supervisor, Mike Alcorn, "constantly" threatened and harassed her regarding her need to express milk and on one occasion allegedly threatened to burn her home down.

She claims Eric Fagan, a supervisor at Swan, advised her that she would need to stop using breaks to express milk on or about May 2, 2007.

"Lee continued to use her break time to express milk in cramped, unclean, hot areas during summer of 2007," the complaint states.

Lee also claims that on June 22, 2007, Alcorn told her that she would not be able to express milk any more during her work breaks and the plant manager, Kenny Bonaura, told her that in order to express milk, she would need to clock out and that he would not allow any more breaks to be used to express milk.

"Lee advised Kenny Bonaura on June 22, 2007, that the company was not providing a room or other location than a toilet stall in close proximity to her work area to express milk as required by Illinois state law," the complaint states.

"Lee advised Kenny Bonaura on June 22, 2007, that the company would be treating her differently if they allowed employees to use break time for smoking but not for expressing milk."

She claims later that day she was transferred from the fabrication area to the paint line, a much faster line that made it very difficult to stop for breaks to express milk.

Swan sells a wide variety of original kitchen and bath products through its plant in Centralia.

"That because of the retaliatory nature of the company's discriminatory actions towards Lee because of her breast feeding, Lee took a medical leave of absence and vacation time from June 28, 2007 through July 31, 2007," the complaint states.

Lee claims that after her medical leave, she was moved back to fabrication but was informed that the policy of the company was that she needed to clock out for breaks and could only use a bathroom stall to express milk.

"That because of the retaliatory nature of the Swan's actions, Lee resigned from her position after 18 years with the company on August 21, 2007," the complaint states.

According to the complaint, as a result of the ADA violations, Lee has lost, and will continue to lose, income and benefits and has suffered intangible losses, including mental anguish, embarrassment, loss of reputation, and inconvenience.

Lee also accuses Swan of sexual discrimination in the workplace because it allegedly moved less qualified male employees into supervisory roles when she was able and willing to move into a supervisory role during her employment.

She claims at the time of her resignation, there was only one female supervisor at Swan.

Lee also accuses Swan of negligently inflicting emotional distress by violating 820 ILCS 260/10 which states, "An employer shall provide reasonable unpaid break time each day to an employee who needs to express breast milk for her infant child. The break time must, if possible, run concurrently with any break time already provided to the employee."

She also claims Swan violated 820 ILCS 260/15 which states, "An employer shall make reasonable efforts to provide a room or other location, in close proximity to the work area, other than a toilet stall, where an employee can express her milk in privacy."

"(Swan) knew or should have known that their unlawful actions would cause Lee distress," the complaint states. "Defendant's reckless disregard of its legal obligations under this action caused unreasonable distress."

Lee is seeking the following judgment in her favor:

  • a permanent injunction enjoining Swan from engaging in any conduct or practice which discriminates on the basis of any medical disability or on the basis of sex;

  • an order requiring Swan to institute and carry out policies, practices and programs, including but not limited to training of agents, employees, and staff, which will provide equal opportunities for employment to all individuals regardless of sex or medical disability;

  • an award in damages in an amount equal to any wages, salary, employment benefits and other compensation denied or lost to her by reason of Swan's unlawful conduct, including front pay; and

  • an order directing Swan to pay her compensatory and punitive damages for injuries suffered by them as the result of the actions taken in violation of Illinois state law, including but not limited to, emotional pain, suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life, and other non pecuniary losses, occurring in the past and reasonably certain to occur in the future, plus costs of the suit, interest and attorney fees.

    Lee is represented by Teresa Machicao-Hopkins of Marion.

    The case has been assigned to District Judge William Stiehl.

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