No discrimination trial for woman told to 'go home to your babies'

Mother holding baby son, close up
Mother holding baby son, close up

A woman who was told “it’s best you go home to your babies,” after being denied a lactation room on her first day back from maternity leave was not discriminated against, and therefore could not sue her employer, a federal appeals court made up of three men ruled this week.

Angela Ames, a former employee of Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. in Des Moines, filed a suit alleging gender and pregnancy discrimination after, she says, her employer refused her access to a lactation room saying that she needed to wait three days for paperwork processing.

Ames says that she was offered a wellness room by the company nurse, who warned it might be unsanitary. Upon approaching her supervisor, Ames says she was told that she would need to work overtime to catch up on things she had missed during her two-month maternity leave. Then, upon approaching her department head, Karla Neel, Ames says she was handed a piece of paper on which to write her resignation letter and told “it’s best you go home to your babies.”

The lawsuit was dismissed in 2012, then brought back by a friend-of-the-court brief filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The federal appeals court ruled that Neel’s comments were not aimed at forcing Ames to quit her job, and that “rather than intentionally rendering Ames’s work conditions intolerable, the record shows that Nationwide sought to accommodate Ames’s needs.”  

“The opinion contains all sorts of conclusions that I don't think are possible if it would have looked at the facts in the light most favorable to Angela," Ames’s attorney Paige Fiedler said after the ruling. Emily McCarty, another lawyer for Ames, argued before the panel that they could not understand what Ames felt like.

“For those of you who have never lactated or been in an unanticipated situation in which someone is preventing you from nursing or pumping for hours, it’s almost impossible to imagine what it was like for Angela Ames on the day she returned from maternity leave,” McCarty said.