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Governor LePage vetos Act to Protect Working Mothers Who Breastfeed

Last week, Governor LePage vetoed a bill that we previously reported on which would have protected employees who need to breastfeed or express breast milk at work from discrimination. This week, the Maine House failed to override Governor LePage’s veto. The editorial board of the Bangor Daily News expressed its disagreement with Governor LePage on this issue. The Bangor Daily News editorial made the point that the bill which Governor LePage vetoed would have improved the legal process for protecting employees who breastfeed because it would’ve permitted the Maine Human Rights Commission to resolve complaints without the need for a lawsuit.

“If we truly value full equality for working mothers in the workplace, we need effective measures to protect their rights,” said Rep. Anne Graham, D-North Yarmouth, the bill’s sponsor and a pediatric nurse practitioner. “This bill is also needed for the children of working mothers, who also deserve the long-term health benefits that the nutritional and infection-fighting properties of breast milk provide.”

In response to Governor LePage’s rationale for his veto, that Maine law already protects breastfeeding mothers from discrimination, Graham said that the only recourse for a mother whose employer refuses to let her express breast milk at work “is to bring a complaint to the state Department of Labor, if she is still employed, or, if she has lost her job, to ask the local district attorney to bring a suit. In either case, the most severe sanction against the employer is a $500 fine that goes to the state, not the mother. Nothing in current law requires an employer to rehire a worker who was fired for nursing.”

Despite the Governor’s veto, under current law, Maine employers are still required to permit employees to express breast milk at work. If you file a complaint with your employer because your boss has illegally refused to permit you to express breast milk at work and you then experience retaliation because of your complaint, you could pursue legal action under Maine’s Whistleblower Protection Act. Making a decision about whether to file such a complaint with your employer, however, can be complicated. So, if your employer is not permitting you to express breast milk at work, you should contact an experienced employment lawyer for advice.