ACLU wins settlement for breast pumping, charter school teacher who said pumping milk got her fired

ACLU sued Rocky Mountain Academy of Evergreen

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. - The charter school teacher who said she was fired for pumping milk during school hours has won a financial settlement and policy changes at her old school.

Heather Burgbacher taught technology at the Rocky Mountain Academy of Evergreen for five years before she was let go last summer.

 "My entire world was turned upside down for something I believed so much in," Burgbacher said at a Tuesday news conference.

In late 2010, Burgbacher arranged for her students to do supervised desk work for the brief periods when she needed to pump breast milk. It amounted to 20 minutes, three times each week, said the American Civil Liberties Union said.

During discussions about her pumping schedule, Burgbacher said one of her supervisors informed her that RMAE would not accommodate her need to pump and suggested that she feed her baby formula instead.

Even though Burgbacher found coverage for her classes during these brief periods, her supervisors resisted this accommodation until forced to accept it through mediation, the ACLU said.

In February 2011, Burgbacher was informed that her contract would not be renewed, even though she received consistently positive workplace evaluations, the ACLU said. Her supervisor made clear that the termination was not due to Burgbacher’s job performance, but only because of the conflict over her pumping schedule, the ACLU said.

Burgbacher contacted ACLU attorneys, who filed a lawsuit on her behalf.

 "So many people would say this isn’t worth it. I don’t have the strength, I don’t have the resources, I don’t have the courage," Burgbacher said. "I was able to do it. I felt it was important to do it, because they’re so many women who would be afraid to."

Rocky Mountain Academy of Evergreen issued a statement Tuesday saying the Burgbacher's termination wasn't about breast milk pumping.

 "The plaintiff’s employment contract with RMAE was non-renewed in 2011 when her position was eliminated due to an organizational restructure," Dina Walton, director of human resources at RMAE, said in the statement. "This situation was completely unrelated to the fact that she was a nursing mother. The organizational restructure process and planning began approximately 18 months prior to the plaintiff’s non-renewal notification. "

The ACLU said under the settlement with RMAE, the school agreed to make significant policy changes to ensure that nursing employees have the time and space to express breast milk at work. RMAE has also agreed to provide Burgbacher with monetary compensation, according to the ACLU.

However, the school said those policies were already in place and were being implemented before the lawsuit.

"Since its inception, RMAE has had detailed policies and procedures in place to uphold all state and federal regulations to protect the rights of its personnel. This includes providing the appropriate workplace accommodations for nursing mothers, including the plaintiff in this case," Walton said.

The school said while it and the district agreed to settle the case, they still strongly disagree with the claims filed by the ACLU in August 2011.

"Continuing to battle this lawsuit would have taken more valuable time and resources away from the students and classrooms at the Rocky Mountain Academy of Evergreen and this was not something we were willing to do," said Kelli Anderson, board treasurer at RMAE. "We have agreed to a settlement in order to put this situation behind us and to refocus our attention on what matters most --providing a high-quality public education to our students."

"This is the first public settlement of a legal challenge brought under the Colorado Nursing Mothers Act, a 2008 law safeguarding a woman's right to continue breastfeeding when returning to work after having a baby," the ACLU said in a statement sent to 7NEWS.

"To its credit, RMAE has agreed to make significant policy changes that I feel confident will ensure that the next nursing mom working at RMAE will have the workplace support she needs to nurse her baby for as long as she wants," said Burgbacher in the statement. "I am deeply satisfied with this settlement."

Expressing breast milk on the job is a right guaranteed by the Colorado Workplace Accommodations for Nursing Mothers Act, as well as other state and federal anti-discrimination laws, according to the ACLU.  The Nursing Mothers Act mandates that employers provide time on the job in a private location for mothers to express breast milk. 

Burgbacher said she had no problem pumping milk for her first child at RMAE, but that it was under a different director.