Veteran news reporter Kate Rayner says her former television station in Connecticut refused to accommodate her requests to pump breastmilk upon her return from maternity leave.
Rayner is suing NBC Universal for sex and pregnancy discrimination and retaliation.
While her case works its way through the Federal Court system, Rayner wants other mothers to know their legal rights when it comes to breastfeeding and pumping for their children.
Rayner began working for NBC Connecticut in September 2014 as an on-air news reporter. She had no issues when it came to her maternity leave or being allowed to pump at the station with her first pregnancy and child.
Following the birth of her second child in 2019, Rayner says her news director repeatedly refused to accommodate her requests to be allowed to pump inside the news station. Specifically, she asked to be able to pump twice a shift—once in the morning and once in the afternoon.
According to Rayner's lawsuit, the news director told her "that her request would be too difficult to manage."
On her second day back from maternity leave, Rayner says her news director emailed her, "telling her to pump at a nearby Target store or a hospital rather than returning to the station, and to plan on doing the same every day."
Rayner's lawsuit also alleges that her boss told her that "'breastfeeding doesn't count' as a disability that must be accommodated and that lactation was not entitled to protection" and that she "has a business to run."
The reporter also says that even when her work schedule allowed her time to return to the station to pump, she was routinely denied "permission" by her bosses.
"For example, on one occasion when [Rayner] asked to come back to the station to pump, she was told she could not do so simply because she had been able to return to the station during each of the previous two afternoons," says her lawsuit.
Rayner recently shared her story on Facebook, posting a video taken about a month after her return to work. In it, she said that her bosses told her that she should pump on location, which was a condemned school building that she wasn't allowed to enter.
She also shared the following statement:
When I returned to work as a reporter at NBC Connecticut after the birth of my second daughter in 2019, I was told I couldn't return to the station's designated mothers' room during the day to pump breast milk like I had after my first child. 'Find a Target or a hospital,' they said. It was humiliating.
I was accused of being unable to do my job— one I did well for a long time. I was "sent home" after stopping back at the station to pump one day. I was forced to email and call managers every day, every time I pumped, where I was (sometimes that was a firehouse, police station or first selectman's office) and how long it would take. It was degrading.
They set mandated pump times. Faced with constant deadlines, I had no choice but to skip pumping sometimes. I was scrutinized and was told I was a poor performer and that a manager would need to shadow me for several days to observe my work and "my pumping." It was difficult.
Then, they didn't allow me to return to work from a short medical leave because they hadn't decided if they could accommodate my pumping.
That's how my TV career ended.
It's taken me more than a year to write this post, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't afraid. This video is from about a month after I went back.
Connecticut state laws protect a mother's right to breastfeed her child. NBC's policies offer generous parental leave.
Laws and policies are not enough. The people who did this to me were women.
We need CULTURAL change. We need systems in place to ensure that all women (mothers included) are empowered and valued. For now, my case against NBC Universal is slowly making its way through the Federal Court system.
Rayner's right—we need cultural change. We need protections like the PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act, which extends protections to nearly 9 million women excluded from the current Break Time for Nursing Mothers law, like teachers and nurses. The legislation just passed the Senate and House last month.
We need more employers to understand what's at stake when their employee asks to pump. It's not about time off or midday breaks; it's about the health and safety of a mother and her child.
While she waits for her case to make its way through the court system, Rayner wants other mothers to be aware of what employers can—and cannot—do when it comes to accommodating pumping.
"Understand your rights, and always do what's best for you and your baby," she told Motherly.