Before she took maternity leave, Alabama police officer Stephanie Hicks was right where she wanted to be in her career. She’d finally landed a spot in the narcotics division, a goal of hers since starting at the Tuscaloosa Police Department in 2007.
Narcotics work was often dangerous. There was that time Hicks posed undercover as a prostitute. Another time she masqueraded as a drug dealer. But she loved it. She wanted to focus on drug issues, having grown up in Tuscaloosa and seen the damage that prescription drug abuse was doing to her community.
By the time she went on maternity leave in 2012, she was investigating illegal prescription drug sales, counseling and doing community outreach. In her last performance review before she went on leave, Hicks’ supervisor wrote that she “exceeded expectations.”
Then the baby came. For 12 weeks, Hicks was home with her little boy. The baby’s collar bone broke during delivery and he needed extra-tender care. He had colic and was constantly crying. She was either breastfeeding him or expressing more milk, using an electric pump, pretty much around the clock.
At no point did she back away from her plan to return to work, she said, nor did she intend to stop breastfeeding once she was back on the job.
“That was never the plan,” Hicks, 38, told HuffPost recently. Like many other working mothers, Hicks figured she’d bring her pump to work and take two breaks during her 8 a.m.-4 p.m. shift to express milk. Friends of hers, including at least one in another division of the Tuscaloosa Police Department, had done much the same.
But from the moment she returned to work, nothing went as planned. Hicks said her supervisors treated her differently, refusing to accommodate her need for pumping breaks, among other problems.
“I was blindsided,” Hicks said.
Less than two weeks after she came back, Hicks quit her job. She felt like she had no choice. Her supervisors had essentially given her an ultimatum: Give up breastfeeding or quit the police force.
“There were no other options,” Hicks said.
But she hadn’t really given up. Wary after a colleague warned her that supervisors weren’t happy about her leave, Hicks had been secretly taping her own conversations with supervisors. Armed with that evidence, she filed suit against the Tuscaloosa Police Department for discrimination.
Now, nearly five years later, she’s scored a decisive win ― for herself and for women around the country.
In early September, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit confirmed a jury’s finding that the Tuscaloosa department discriminated against Hicks in violation of the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act. The decision in Hicks v. City of Tuscaloosa appears to be the first time that a federal appellate court has recognized that employers are obligated to accommodate workers who are breastfeeding, just as they would employees who are injured, said Galen Sherwin, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union.
The ACLU, along with the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law, submitted an amicus brief on behalf of 22 women’s organizations in Hicks’ favor. They also helped argue the case before the 11th Circuit.
You can read the rest at Huffington Post.