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Lifestyle Family Fitness Settles Civil Rights Case with Ohio Mom

Looking for The Lactivist? She's retired. But you CAN still find Jen blogging. These days, she's runs A Flexible Life. Join her for life, recipes, projects and the occasional rant.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Earlier 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.

Anna explains:

...[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.

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  1. Anonymous katie | 6:49 AM |  

    is it possible to get a sticker/sign of this international breastfeeding symbol?? moms everywhere could display them!

  2. Blogger K | 7:33 AM |  

    I would not be disappointed about not going to trial -- sounds like this would have settled by administrative hearing anyway so a settlement as favorable as this one will set the stage for how further complaints are handled. And this settlement is fantastic!

  3. Blogger Nevanna | 9:37 AM |  

    I noticed a sign up in 24 HR Fitness here in Scottsdale (AZ), specifically stating that breastfeeding is permitted anywhere on the premises. My first thought was cool...they support breastfeeding. My second thought was crap, they have to make a sign about it. :)

  4. Anonymous Anonymous | 10:04 AM |  

    First, let me begin with the facts: I breastfed my son until he weaned, at 2.5 years of age (Heck, I would have gone on..but, he called the shots), and was fortunate in that I never felt infringed upon while NIP.

    However (yeah, here it comes) for clarity, I would like to add the following: the OCRC is an administrative agency, with absolutely no 'teeth', as are most admin agencies. So, there is NO precedential value to any thing they do. They typically find fault with the accused, as nothing less would justify their existence. I would imagine the facility simply grew weary of fighting the quinessential government worker, and agreed to a conciliatory process, then face the next year litigating. I wouldn't turn the OCRC on to my biggest enemy, they can be that abusive.

    I don't consider the OCRC's "decision" a win for anyone other than the OCRC. Educating is the key, not a beating over the head.

    To me, displaying the national ( I think you said) breastfeeding logo (LOL, didn't know there was such a thing) is akin to saying, "hey, come on in here and do that which you are legally entitled to do anyhow". Does the facility have to display the ADA accomodations, too? Dunno, seems strange that we are seeking out permissive symbols, as I see that as coming from a position of weakness.

  5. Blogger Eilat | 11:07 AM |  

    To claify for Anonymous, the international breastfeeding symbol came about as a result of a Mothering magazine article about the need for breastfeeding to exist more prominently in our culture. The article displayed a whole bunch of subliminal baby-related images, from baby-shower invitations to L&D nursing scrubs covered with graphics of baby bottles. Then one of the editors noticed (I think at an airport) that a family lounge room (you know the nice family bathrooms with a changing table a a chair for feeding a baby) had a bottle as the symbol. It seems that there was no international symbol for breastfeeding (the way there is a symbol for "man" "woman" "handicapped"). It seemed wrong for a bottle used to symbolize baby feeding. And so they put out a call, a competition, for people to submit their idea for a breastfeeding symbol. (The symbol is now promenently displayed at the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport family lounge).

    I think its a great thing. Its a nice way to send a signal out to moms who are out with their babies that they can nurse freely without feeling stressed or fearful of remarks or worse. Yes, breastfeeding is natural and in a perfect world should not have a special symbol, but the images of breastfeeding are so absent from our culture that a symbol is just another way of letting people know that it is normal AND welcome :-)

    Re: The settlement, I think the decision is wonderful. It will hopefully set a precedent and can be used as an example in future incidents as how a business can remedy itself.

  6. Blogger Darlene | 7:08 PM |  

    Wow. This is really powerful and I solute the Ohio Breastfeeding Coalition.

    As for the international symbol and the question of whether it's good that business' display the sign or the point that it's a shame that anyone NEEDS to display it to make a point, may I offer my humble two cents?

    I agree that it's sad that there is still ANY question as to whether an establishment "allows" breastfeeding. "Allows" in this context is truly a sad word to describe what should be (and really is) a God-given right.

    However, since the US society in general is really split on the issue of the "appropriateness" of nursing in public, it is my humble opinion that we would be much better off by encouraging every store business we spend our money in to display the symbol...for now. To a large extent, society's rules flex and change when we look around and see that the change has already happened or that the acceptance has become generalized around us. Wouldn't it be more effective if hundreds of stores in your area displayed the symbol and 'came out', if you will, about their stand on the issue. That slow spread of acceptance can only follow. And any spread of acceptance as opposed to, as one reader said, being beaten over the head and forced to apply a policy, is more effective in the long run.

    My hat is off to all of the OBC folks. I hope Florida can follow your lead.

  7. Anonymous Anonymous | 2:58 PM |  

    Breat feeding issues aside. Lifestyle family fitness is a terrible gym. I being trying to cancel my membership for the past 3 months, and nothing, they just keep billing me.

    My advice, get out of Lifesyle and if you know someone looking for a gym, tell them NOT to join Lifesyles.

  8. Anonymous Anonymous | 7:12 PM |  

    I think that this is crap. Children in the kids club are up to the age of 12. A 12 year old should not being seing a womans breast and leave it up to a Kids Club attendant to answer those questions. Get off your bandwagon you womens right activists.

  9. Blogger The Lactivist | 7:32 PM |  

    Why yes Anonymous #8, we wouldn't want to go by the Ohio law that states a woman may breastfeed in any location she's otherwise authorized to be.

    Far better for 12 year old to see breasts used to sell cars and alcohol than to have a mom using them for what they were meant for.

  10. Anonymous Anonymous | 2:57 PM |  

    I agree with #8. I wouldn't want me 7 yr old watching this. Are you people crazy? Breastfeeding could be done in the lockerroom. I am a woman who personally finds it disgustinf when a growm woman takes her breast out.

  11. Anonymous Tampa, Florida | 6:26 AM |  

    What is going on in this country?
    Breastfeeding is a beautiful natural human behavior and should be allowed in every state in the US.
    This is the only country in the world that people are now discriminating or finding it offensive.
    If you don't like it cover your eyes or change the channel.
    There are more immoral issues now in days and they are in our homes, on TV's and PC's, and I know that YOU know what I mean.

  12. Anonymous asian | 8:23 PM |  

    As an Asian having travelled around Asia, I've noticed that breastfeeding (including in public) is more commonplace in the less developed nations and places than in the more developed ones. Yet, where scanty dressing and pornography is concerned, the reverse occurs.

    Somehow, I get the feeling that those who find breastfeeding offensive, are guilty of objectifying and dicriminating women.

  13. Anonymous Anonymous | 7:45 PM |  

    There's a time and place for everything but such things should be done in private. I can understand in the kids club but if a woman pulls out a tit and starts feeding her kid while I'm eating in a restaurant there's going to be a fight. I have rights too and I paid for a meal as well as MAYBE all those who paid the same fee at lifestyles might not want their kid or themselves to see a TIT hanging out.

    All these people screaming right to smoke, right to a handicap space, right to expectant mother space, when you have no real such rights because they infringe on other peoples rights.

    ALL these groups need finances and laws to get them and it's ALL B.S.

    Get a REAL job and stop bothering other people with YOUR morals.


  14. Blogger Jennifer Laycock | 7:50 PM |  

    Sorry, but I have to LOL at your comment...

    you have no real such rights because they infringe on other peoples rights

    So wouldn't that mean you don't have the right to eat without someone nursing because that right would infringe on their right?

    You're using faulty circular logic here.

    Babies need to eat. You don't have to look. In fact, I'd wager in a restaurant or gym, you could look at about 120 things that are more interesting than that nursing mom. So why should you care unless she come and stands in front of you blocking your way while she does it.


    stop bothering other people with YOUR morals.

    River flows both ways my friend...

  15. Blogger Jennifer Laycock | 5:45 AM |  


    I'm posting this to let you know I received your response, but I will not publish it on my blog.

    I don't publish any posts that include, hate, sexism, racial slurs or political tirades. We're here to talk about breastfeeding and parenting.

    You clearly have issues with both women and with babies. If that's the case, I suggest you find another blog to spend time on.

  16. Blogger Jennifer Laycock | 8:17 AM |  


    I received your second response. When you manage to put together a coherent response that doesn't include vulgarity or swear words, I might publish it.

    But your points remain the same as last time. You spout off about how everyone should respect each other's rights, but you show no respect for the right of the baby who needs to eat.

    Two way street. Either admit that you think some people's "rights" (specifically the right not to be uncomfortable) stretch past someone else's right to food and comfort, or accept that if you want to protect everyone's rights, it means even the rights of those you disagree with.

    Beyond that, your political tirades have no place here. Though I do find it amusing you think I'm a democrat. Apparently right-wing, Christian conservatives who are lifetime members of the NRA can't also home birth, be eco-friendly, and support breastfeeding. :-P

  17. Anonymous Anonymous | 7:48 PM |  

    IMHO (and I nursed both of my children privately & publicly) I would not have chosen to nurse in a KidsClub. I nursed in front of my oldest and was able to answer his questions the way I wanted them answered -- honestly and factually. I can't say that all KidsClub attendants (or clearly their managers) could defer youngster's questions, answer objectively, or answer factually. It would really bother me if my children were exposed to breastfeeding for the first time and I were not present to provide a positive light on it. It would kill me to have to backtrack their thought processes to compensate for moronic impulsive statements that degrade breastfeeding. I think that deprives parents of parenting experiences and many people WANT to provide healthy body images and usage. If there were other rooms available with adults only or children with their adults, I personally would have chosen those first. My children did not die of starvation with having to wait 2 minutes to nurse while I took into consideration how I would have felt as another child's parent. Really, I'm not sure how nursing in a KidsClub or similar setting would be easy for an infant either as there are so many distractions and so little space. Our children, when nursing, loved to sprawl out and relax. That's here nor there, just my opinions.

  18. Anonymous Paul from Tampa | 5:45 PM |  

    Beautiful, courts are filled with real court cases and this woman is compelled to object to "discretion in public". War in Irag, financial collapse, etc. and this is her problem. This company has to spend so much time and effort to unburden itself from this lawsuit when it could have been resolved with a one on one talk with the manager expressing her indignation. I am positive she did not try and work this out with management. This was going to be her "cause celeb". She and others of your ilk should focus your efforts on the real issue, children born out of wedlock. Over 40% now, I believe. Thanks for playing the violin while ROme burns.

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