A former Maine elementary school teacher says she was fired for taking breaks to pump breast milk and breastfeed her young son. Now, she’s suing the school system, claiming discrimination on the basis of gender and pregnancy.
Shana Swenson, 33, worked for three years as a reading teacher in the Falmouth Public Schools, and went on maternity leave in January 2017. Before she returned to work in August of that year, she told her school’s principal that she would need three daily breaks to pump milk or breastfeed her son, who was at an on-site daycare center at the school, the lawsuit says.
But the principal asked that she cut down her breaks to two per day, and schedule them during her lunch and planning time. Swenson made it clear this wasn’t possible, and could even lead to breastfeeding-related health issues.
It was at this time that things took a turn, Swenson claims. The lawsuit alleges that she was “subjected to extreme animosity and hostility” by some of her colleagues based on her decision to breastfeed and take breaks throughout the day to pump. She also received a negative evaluation two months after returning to work. By May 2018, Swenson was notified that her contract with the school system would not be renewed.
“Ms. Swenson was surprised and hurt by the treatment that she was subjected to during her employment. We look forward to the discovery process including depositions and document exchanges to vindicate our client’s rights,” Adam Lease, a partner with Karpf, Karpf and Cerutti of Bensalem, Pennsylvania, said in a statement Friday, and reported by the Portland Press Herald.
But legal representatives for the Falmouth school system say there was nothing inappropriate about the way Swenson was treated.
“Ms. Swenson’s claim that the Falmouth School Department discriminated against her is false,” Melissa Hewey, an attorney from Drummond Woodsum representing the Falmouth Public Schools, told the Bangor Daily News.
Hewey also told the Portland Press Herald that Swenson’s role was as a “probationary teacher” and that her contract was not renewed because, “her performance was not up to the standards Falmouth expects of its continuing contract teachers.”
Hewey also added that the school system is “really ahead of the curve” when it comes to supporting employees with children, whether it’s through parental leave, on-site daycare, or providing time for breast pumping.
“It’s disappointing she would make these claims after taking advantage of very generous benefits offered to her,” said Hewey.
Swenson is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, and is asking the U.S. district court to create a policy that prevents similar discriminatory events in the future, according to the lawsuit.
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