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Lawsuit Over Breastfeeding Accommodation In The Workplace Heard In N.H. Supreme Court

Todd Bookman/NHPR

A former state employee fired for what she alleges was hostility over a request for breastfeeding accommodation argued her case before the Supreme Court of New Hampshire on Tuesday. 

The case has been winding its way through both federal and state courts for more than six years. Kate Frederick, who now resides in Vermont, alleges she was fired from her position at the Department of Health and Human Services in September 2012.

In her wrongful termination suit, Frederick claimed she asked her employer for permission to breastfeed her son in an on-site lactation room, or be granted an extended break to breastfeed at a nearby childcare facility. 

After numerous appeals, two legal issues are now before the Supreme Court, neither of which have to do with breastfeeding on the job.

The first question justices will need to decide is if a state employee covered under a collective bargaining contract can bring a claim for wrongful termination against the state. A second legal matter before the court involves whether Frederick filed her suit in state court within the three-year statute of limitations.

“This wrongful termination claim was not filed in the correct forum within that time frame,” Anthony Galdieri, an attorney with the Department of Justice, told the court’s four justices during oral arguments on Tuesday. 

Benjamin King, Federick’s attorney, countered that because her case was rejected by a federal court judge on issues unrelated to the merits of the matter, her state suit is timley because it was submitted within the additional year of filing time afforded under state law.

The DOJ is asking the court to affirm a superior court decision to dismiss the case. If the court sides with Frederick, the dispute would then be sent back to the superior court for a jury trial, prolonging the more than six-year long legal battle.

On the courthouse steps, Frederick told reporters that it’s been worth the time. 

“Well, it’s not going to change what happened, I’m obviously done breastfeeding,” said Frederick alongside her son Devon, 6, who was dressed in a shirt and tie. 

“But I think it is really important to look at what’s wrong in New Hampshire, and see if we can make it better.”

Frederick also noted a peculiar twist in state policy. Last month, Gov. Chris Sununu announced a new policy allowing employees of the state to bring infants up to six-months old into the workplace, as long as the child isn’t deemed disruptive to the work environment. 

“So they told me at the time, nope, they said there is no personnel rule about that. And it will be too distracting,” said Frederick. “But apparently babies have now changed, and it is not too distracting, and they are going to allow it.”

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University.

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