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Officer’s Lactation Suit Heads to Trial in D.C.

(CN) - A police officer who needed to lactate upon return from maternity leave has a case for discrimination against the Washington, D.C., Police Department, a federal judge ruled.

Sashay Allen-Brown had been in her fifth year with the Metropolitan Police Department when she gave birth to a son in 2011. When Allen-Brown returned to duty after her maternity leave, she was still breastfeeding her 2-month-old and needed to express milk at least two or three times per day.

Allen-Brown says she quickly perceived cleanliness issues with the Second District's designated lactation room, which was essentially the lounge area of the women's restroom.

Though there was a "lactating" sign on the door to the restroom, Allen-Brown said the area was essentially an "all-purpose room" that "everyone used," whether to take naps and do their hair.

A few days after emailing her lieutenant about whom to contact about the cleanliness of the lactation room, Allen-Brown wrote the commander of the Second District and requested to be assigned to desk duty at the station until her son was 1 year old.

Officers in the field are required to wear a bulletproof vest, and Allen-Brown worried that the vest would clog her ducts and interfere with milk production.

The commander denied Allen-Brown's request for an accommodation, and the MPD's medical services director, William Sarvis, refused to clear Allen-Brown for "limited duty" status.

With Sarvis recommending that Allen-Brown take unpaid leave until she could return to full-duty status, the officer returned to work in April 2012 after she finished breastfeeding.

Allen-Brown's lawsuit has been pending for nearly three years, and the District of Columbia is the only remaining defendant. While the district sought summary judgment on the discrimination and retaliation claims, Allen-Brown sought judgment on failure to accommodate under the D.C. Human Rights Act.

U.S. District Judge Randolph Moss found Thursday that all these issues must go trial.

D.C. law requires employers to provide a "sanitary room or other location in close proximity to the work area other than a bathroom or toilet stall, where an employee can express her breast milk in privacy and security," according to the ruling.

Allen-Brown has not yet provided enough evidence to show that the lactation room within the bathroom failed to meet that standard, Moss found.

As to retaliation and discrimination, Moss said a reasonable jury could infer ... that Allen-Brown's complaints about the lactation room caused the district's decision to move her from station duty, which accommodated her pregnancy-related medical condition, to patrol duty, which did not."

Allen-Brown also need not show that her complaint challenged an actual violation of Title VII at this stage, the court found.

"The relevant question, instead is whether Allen-Brown's complaints were 'based on [a] reasonable belief' that her rights under Title VII were violated," Moss wrote.

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