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Tuesday, July 03, 2007Earlier this year I posted about a breastfeeding in public case here in Ohio that was being heard by the Ohio Civil Rights Commission. It marked the first time that the OCRC had agreed to hear a discrimination case of this type, setting the stage for the OCRC to hear future civil rights violation cases by other moms that have been discriminated against for breastfeeding their children.
If you missed the story, here's the gist.
or the first time, the Ohio Civil Rights Commission has found probable cause that a woman was discriminated against for trying to breast-feed.
Anna Swank of Blacklick filed a complaint Aug. 29, the same day she attempted to breast-feed her then-6 month-old son, Levi, in the Kids' Club at Lifestyle Family Fitness, 5929 E. Main St., after exercising.
Swank, 33, said she was feeding Levi when a manager told her that it was inappropriate, and that if she did it again her Kids' Club privileges would be revoked. She was told to go to a locker room.
It seems that rather than go through the entire court process, Lifestyle Family Fitness has decided to settle the suit. There are pros and cons to this decision (which I'll touch on in a moment) but first, let me share what the terms of the settlement are.
1. Within 60 days, they must submit to the OCRC new or revised customer service policies that affirmatively entitle a mother to breastfeed in their clubs. Any future changes to the policy must be submitted to the OCRC for approval before they can be put in place.
2. Within 90 days, they must take "reasonable steps" to notify all current members that its customer service policies entitle mothers to breastfeed in their clubs. New members must also be made aware of the policy.
3. Within 60 days, they must display the International Breastfeeding Symbol on a 12"x12" sign above, at or near the entrance of every Kids Club
4. Within 60 days, they must provide training to all employees concerning the provisions of the conciliation agreement and provisions of state and federal anti-discrimination laws. Training must be complete within 120 days.
5. Within 10 days, they must pay Anna $2,500.
6. Within 10 days, they must pay the Ohio Breastfeeding Coalition $2,500.
7. They must submit annual compliance reports to the OCRC for the next 5 years.
While #6 is exciting for the Ohio Breastfeeding Coalition (because it provides desperately needed start-up funds) it's #3 and #7 that caught my eye.
You see, it's pretty common for businesses to commit to training employees after an incident like this, but there's often no way to make sure it's really getting done.
The compliance report will ensure that Lifestyle Family Fitness will follow through for at LEAST the next five years. Quite honestly, I would hope five years of compliance will change the corporate culture enough that things will continue on as they should beyond that point.
I was also very interested to see the requirement of displaying the International Breastfeeding Symbol. While I love the fact that it was created, I think we have a long ways to go to get businesses and restaurants to display it. We also have a long way to go to make sure the average person understands it. Getting it displayed in these fitness centers is a great starting point and gives those of us here in Central Ohio more leverage to try and get other businesses to display it as well.
The last thing worth noting is what all of this means to the future of breastfeeding in public here in Ohio. You might recall that Jake Marcus and I were trying to figure out if this suit would set the legal precedence to give Ohio one of the strongest enforcement policies in the country by making breastfeeding a protected civil right.
Well, since the suit has been settled rather than going through a full trial, it doesn't set quite the precedence that we had hoped for, but there is still something interesting to note.
...[The OCRC] actually found probable cause for discrimination under ORC 4112.02(G) - I was "denied full enjoyment of the accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges of a place of public accommodation for reasons not applicable to all persons regardless of sex."
So what does that mean?
Well, it means that even though THIS suit didn't quite accomplish what we hoped it would, it DOES set the stage for the Ohio Civil Rights Commission to hear future cases. That alone is a huge step since the OCRC had refused to hear cases in the past. (Including the case of Robin Neorr and City Kids Day Care.)
I also want to share that it wasn't long after I made my post in April that I was able to get in touch with Anna. I wanted to let her know about the Ohio Breastfeeding Coalition and to see if I could offer any help in her case.
She's since joined forces with us and is now an integral part of the board of directors of the Ohio Breastfeeding Coalition. Like the OBC's founder Robin Neorr, Anna decided to turn her experience into a positive by dedicating her time to building an organization that will help change the culture for other breastfeeding mothers.
Anna's also a Lactivist reader, so I'm also going to sneak in a "Hi Anna!" and an "I think you rock!" before wrapping up this post.