“A news article featuring a Supreme Court decision involving Nationwide Insurance made it into my newsfeed. So many people think it’s a joke but I assure you, it’s not. When you read below, you too will think to yourself…huh? While this post isn’t about bereavement, it does continue to show how horrible Nationwide really is. And with their claims of “it’s all about the children,” it’s really not.

Read about it here, but basically, one of their employees became pregnant. There were inappropriate comments that took place during her pregnancy as well as a miscommunication about her FMLA time off. She had pregnancy complications which required bed rest and there were inappropriate comments from her supervisor regarding this need.

Once she had her baby (premature), she returned to work when he was only two months old. She needed to pump every three hours and once she had arrived at work, she needed to express her milk. She was denied access to the company’s lactation room because she didn’t submit a request which would take three days to process. The company DID try to accommodate her with a wellness room (meant for sick employees) but ultimately, when she complained to her supervisor, the supervisor told her she “needed to go home and be with her babies.”

You can read the inappropriate comments in the court documents. You would also think these came from a male but alas, it was another “mother” who made such horrible comments to her. I am going to go out on a limb here and speculate that her female supervisor made these statements because of how she was treated during her pregnancy, otherwise, she will just come across as a woman hater. Following the statement about being at home with her babies, her supervisor dictated a resignation letter for her and Ms. Ames resigned.

Angela Ames took Nationwide Insurance to court. The UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF IOWA, CENTRAL DIVISION, stated that Ms. Ames did not prove that lactation was a medical condition related to pregnancy because “men can lactate too.” It took me an hour to track down the original statement from the court regarding “men can lactate”  but you can find it in these documents. Here is the actual statement,

“Furthermore, it is a scientific fact that even men have milk ducts and the hormones responsible for milk production. See Nikhil Swaminathan, Strange but True: Males Can Lactate, SCI. AM., Sept. 6, 2007, available at http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=strange-but-true-males-can-lactate&sc=rss. Accordingly, lactation is not a physiological condition experienced exclusively by women who have recently given birth.”

I must add that adoptive lactation was also cited in this defense. So the fact that Ms. Ames was lactating was not sufficient to prove that she was discriminated against due to her pregnancy. I can relate to pregnancy discrimination because I too, have suffered with pregnancy discrimination. It is very real and still happens even within large corporations. I was appalled to learn this during my last pregnancy (and I learned it the hard way).

Even so, the statement that men can lactate was irrelevant. She is a woman and the sole “lactater” for her child. I don’t see men lining up to lactate to feed their babies, although there ARE men that have lactated. I actually read about this many years ago on the website Unassisted Childbirth. I stumbled across this website one day when I was trying to disprove male lactation.

Once I learned about it, I was in awe. I didn’t think it was possible but the story, Milk Men, was fascinating and it had so much information in it, you knew it was real. Because I knew it was possible and the fact that it was also cited in medical research, I reached out to Laura Shanley, author of the book Unassisted Childbirth and wife to David Shanley, a “milk man.”

I was curious what her thoughts might be and asked her if she would share. This was her response.

“I have long been fascinated with the concept of male lactation. I wrote about it in my article, “Milkmen: Fathers who Breastfeed” and have spoken about it on Animal Planet and TLC. I did this not because I wanted to encourage men to breastfeed (although I have no problem with that), but rather because I thought it was an interesting phenomena that was worth exploring. Women, in most cases, are better suited to breastfeeding as they naturally produce milk without chemical or manual stimulation. How disheartening it is now to see that the concept of male lactation is being used to deny a woman her right to privately pump her breasts at work. The Supreme Court has a moral obligation to promote breastfeeding, as it has been scientifically proven to be healthier for both babies and mothers than formula. Male lactation has no place in this debate, and it is sad to see it being used in this way.” – Author Laura Shanley

As an educator, I wonder if this is a topic we should discuss in class. After all, if one of my students’ wife returns to work and experiences push back on her need to express her milk, maybe the father should also lactate “just in case.” Isn’t that what the Supreme Court really said here, by upholding the original courts decision?

In addition, I highly doubt that the CEO of Nationwide Insurance, Mr. Stephen S. Rassmussen lactated for his children (if he has any). Nationwide Insurance used this as a defense in the lawsuit against them. So one would think they support lactating men but if they wanted men to lactate equally as often as women lactate (to prevent the appearance of discrimination), I can guarantee there wouldn’t be a three day waiting period to gain access to the lactation room. No man would be in that kind of pain waiting for access to the room.

In fact, because there is a three day waiting period for the lactation room, which may be in policy but isn’t shared with women as they go out on FMLA for birth, this just serves as another road block to women accessing their right to breastfeed/pump. This serves as a way to discourage lactating women from returning to work.

So Nationwide Insurance, it’s not about “the children” at all. It’s about you bottom line isn’t it? It’s okay to admit it. I mean, here are two highly controversial, issues regarding your company. Can we foster equality between men and women at your company? Absolutely! Alright men, start lactating!

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