Breastfeeding Mom Refuses to Stay Silent After Employer Fires Her for Asking to Pump

Haley Gentle
Fox 4 KC

A mom from Huntsville, Alabama, is taking a stand against her former employer after she was not only allegedly forbidden from using her breast pump at work but was also then fired after trying to advocate for her rights. Haley Gentle's spirit has not been broken, however. Instead, she's using her enraging experience to illustrate larger points: Breastfeeding should be normalized and new mothers need to know their rights. 

  • Gentle explained that the plan was for her to return to work at a small company after giving birth to her baby girl.

    According to Fox 4 KC, the mom had gone on unpaid maternity leave when she had her daughter in early January. Gentle said that both she and her employer had agreed she would be returning to work after her maternity leave, and as she made the transition to come back, she let her employer know she'll need to pump milk at some points during the workday. 

    According to WHNT, her boss had a simple answer: No. And on top of that, her boss reportedly informed her that she was no longer employed with the company.

    She first broached the subject in an email to her boss, according to Fox 4 KC, writing: 

    "I'm breastfeeding my baby and plan on pumping. I have a hands-free device that I will need to use during work maybe twice, once during 8-5, and the other time I can during lunch. Pumping will not require me to be away from my desk, computer, or the phone. It's silent and no one would even know I'm doing so."

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  • The response she got back to her email about pumping is simply infuriating. 

    Her boss reportedly responded over email with a simple rejection:

    "I do have an issue with the pumping. You will be able to do it on your lunch hour but not during work time. What I allow for you I would have to allow for others."

    Gentle's company is small -- fewer than 50 employee -- and according to Teri Mastando, a lawyer who specializes in employment rights, this affects how much Gentle's company had to accommodate her request to pump. “Pregnant women do have rights in the workplace,” Mastando said. “Unfortunately, what rights you have varies based on the number of employees your company has.” That meant that any accommodations the company had to make for her needed to be proved as an "undue hardship.”

    Furious, Gentle wasn't going to give up that easily.

    “I feel like that I did everything that a mother should do,” the mom said. “I went and I found out what my rights were.” She then sent her employer a certified letter asking for two 20-minute unpaid pump breaks. But her request was again denied. 

    “They can only deny those breaks if they can show there’s a hardship involved,” Mastando said. "What kind of financial hardship is it on a company to provide those breaks that the person is asking for to express breast milk?” 

    That's when Gentle said she was notified she was no longer an employee of the company. 

    A few days after receiving the certified letter, Gentle's company allegedly reconsidered. It told her that it would be willing to discuss her accommodations, but by that point she had decided enough was enough. She now has a new job lined up where she has access to privately pump any time she needs it.

    "Suddenly I’m not valuable to them anymore because I asked to pump? I don’t want to work for a company that doesn’t support that," she explained about why she made the move. "I don’t want to go back to work for somebody like that.”

  • The new mom is now an ambassador for the Normalize Breastfeeding initiative and is sharing her story to urge moms to know their rights.

    "I want mothers to know that there are support groups out there," Gentle said. "And for them to know their rights, too."

    Mastando added that the best thing working mothers can do is talk to employers before maternity leave and have a record of it. "Unfortunately, in my world, 'right' and 'legal obligations' are two different things," Mastando said. "The best advice I would give to someone is to find out in advance and get in writing what their employer's plan is. And know your rights, know how many employees your company has, know which laws apply.”

    That is exactly why Gentle is speaking out. "This is my story," she said. "I don't think that's something you should be quiet about."