Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Breastfeeding Philly police officers don’t have time, space, or privacy to pump, lawsuit says

"We shouldn’t be embarrassed or scared to nurse our babies, or have to run home," Officer Janelle Newsome said.

The Philadelphia Police Headquarters.
The Philadelphia Police Headquarters.Read moreTOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer

Blue blood runs deep in Janelle Newsome’s family.

A third-generation Philadelphia cop, the officer planned to return to the force six months after giving birth in July 2018 to the newest addition to her family — son Emmanuel — pumping breast milk for the baby boy on breaks from her post behind the desk at the Neighborhood Services Unit.

But the Philadelphia Police Department, Newsome alleges in a federal lawsuit filed in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, had other plans for the 32-year-old mother. Or rather, no plans.

“None, zero," said Newsome, a five-year veteran of the force. “In this job, [breastfeeding] doesn’t even cross people’s minds as something you would do. ... First responders should actually have the choice to make, to actually be able to make a space for nursing working mothers to feed their babies.”

According to the lawsuit, the department has neglected to provide time or a clean, private space for the nursing mother to express milk, violating of the Break Time for Nursing Mothers provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Instead, Newsome says she was told to pump in a lunchroom during lunchtime or in already-occupied offices, where workers would regularly sit outside the door as she pumped, knocking and asking, “When are you going to be done?”

When she raised concerns, she was allegedly provided another occupied office, where she had to retrieve a privacy sign from three male coworkers when she needed to pump, an arrangement she found “extremely demeaning.”

The Police Department deferred comment to the city Law Department, which declined to comment, citing pending litigation.

Under the FLSA federal labor law, employers are required "to provide reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for one year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express the milk.”

According to the law, employers are also required to provide a private place, other than a bathroom, for breastfeeding mothers to use.

For parents who choose to breastfeed, time to pump is “not a luxury; it’s a need,” said Louisa Brandenburger, an International Board of Lactation Consultant with the Breastfeeding Resource Center in Abington. Those who can’t empty their breasts frequently are at risk for mastitis, inflammation of the breast that can be painful, she said.

Eventually, the stress on Newsome to find a nursing arrangement at work became too great, and she resorted to pumping when she arrived home, the lawsuit said.

"It’s just a bunch of unnecessary things that wouldn’t have happened if there was a system in place,” she said.

Newsome, a mother of three, is not alone. For breastfeeding cops, challenges to pump while policing are nothing new.

That’s why the lawsuit is a proposed collective action, said attorney Ian Bryson of the Derek Smith Law Group. He aims to invite every Philadelphia female officer — 22% of the department — to join the litigation.

In Philly, districts that don’t provide accommodations for nursing mothers have forced officers "to express milk in unsanitary bathrooms that are often extremely hot or extremely cold and infested with roaches and mice,” the suit alleges.

In August, Newsome’s fellow officer Jennifer Allen also filed a separate sexual-discrimination suit against the department and then-Commissioner Richard Ross, alleging in part that she was denied rights to pump, and that her breast milk was tampered with in a department refrigerator.

Elsewhere, in 2017, a federal judge ruled in favor of a Tuscaloosa, Ala., officer who claimed a hostile environment while she was trying to pump forced her to quit. And in 2011, the Washington, D.C., police union fought the department’s move to force lactating officers from desk to patrol jobs, saying bulletproof vests were uncomfortable and the shift separated officers from the equipment and private space needed to pump.

Newsome’s lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for relief and attorney fees, but the officer said she also hopes it changes the culture of nursing while policing.

“[Breastfeeding] is the most natural thing we can do. All animals do it," Newsome said. “You can do it and go back to work, you can go back to your job. We shouldn’t be embarrassed or scared to nurse our babies, or have to run home."