| Law & Industry Daily

American University expressed disapproval of a professor breastfeeding her baby while in her classroom. One of the parties described the institutional point of view as creating a “hostile workplace.”

Published on: Wednesday, September 12, 2012

University frowns on breastfeeding in class


American University disapproves of prof’s breastfeeding in classroom
Does that constitute ‘hostile workplace?’

As yet, this issue has merely generated controversy, not legal action. But it well could since one of the parties described the institutional point of view as creating a “hostile workplace.” Likely lawyers are chatting away in the background about the possibility of all this moving into the sphere of law.

The saga began at American University when a single mother and assistant professor of anthropology Adrienne Pine was due to teach a new course, her baby was sick, and her child care arrangements had fallen through. THE WASHINGTON POST provides the details.

Pine decided to take the baby to the classroom for the 75-minute first day presentation. When the baby seemed uncomfortable she started breastfeeding. The class was over and she thought nothing more about how she coped with her childcare problem. Then she found out that the matter was being debated on social networks. Public opinion was not on her side. Neither was the university. Its public statement was that she should have taken earned leave instead of coming to class. Its policy was aligned with federal and District of Columbia law.

The matter might have floated off the radar screen had not she not pushed back with a formal essay, justifying her actions and describing the way her actions were framed as constituting a “hostile workplace.” We know from experience in this era of a growing number of employment lawsuits that those are terms not to be introduced into a formal context.

This could be quite unfortunate for Pine’s academic career. The rank of Assistant Professor usually does not yet include tenure. Tenured professors usually have the rank of Associate Professor. If Pine is denied tenure at American University that’s when she might file a lawsuit. That case could be the academic analogue of the Aaron Charney gay-discrimination lawsuit against his law firm employer.

By Jane Genova, at Law and More

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