Labor & Employment Law Daily Delaware jury awards $1.5M on breastfeeding KFC employee’s sex bias, hostile work environment claims
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Friday, February 15, 2019

Delaware jury awards $1.5M on breastfeeding KFC employee’s sex bias, hostile work environment claims

By Pamela Wolf, J.D.

The jury found against her KFC franchise employer on claims that she was harassed, demoted, had her hours cut, and was constructively discharged because she was a lactating woman.

A federal jury in Delaware on February 8 found the operators of a KFC chain unlawfully discriminated against a breastfeeding employee, awarding her $1.5 million in damages on her sex discrimination and hostile work environment claims. She alleged, among other things, that she was forced to pump her breasts in circumstances under which male colleagues could—and did—observe her.

No privacy for breast pumping. The assistant restaurant manager trainee at a KFC franchise alleged that after the birth of her son, she was forced to pump her milk in a bathroom. Later, she claimed, she was required to pump in an office with a camera that could not be turned off and a window through which her coworkers could observe her pumping. Not only was one male coworker caught twice watching her pump, another male coworker used his key to enter the office on multiple occasions while she was pumping, and her supervisor did paperwork in the office while she pumped.

Although she wanted to pump every two hours, the employee was purportedly allowed to pump only once during her 10-hour shift.

Demotion. The employee alleged that when her coworkers complained about her pumping breaks, she was demoted and transferred to another store so “it would be easier” for her to get the time to express her milk.

At the new store, not much changed, as she was allegedly again forced to pump in an office with a camera, a window, and interruptions from coworkers. She claimed her supervisor cut her hours so she would have more time to pump, and because she could not pump a sufficient number of times during her shift, her breast milk would leak through her shirt. Eventually, she alleged, her milk supply dried up and she was unable to breastfeed her son.

Huge issue. Her coworkers, the employee alleged, not only complained about her pumping, employees that she supervised were upset she would pump rather than “be on the floor.” Further, her supervisor discouraged her from pumping, characterizing it as “obviously . . . a huge issue.” She ultimately quit when she was accused of stealing a customer’s jacket, which she claimed to have accidently taken home.

Summary judgment. Issuing a partial summary judgment decision in November 2018, the district court determined that the employee’s Title VII hostile work environment claims could proceed to trial (her sex discrimination claims were apparently not at issue). Her FLSA Section 207(r) claim could not go forward, however, because she failed to allege she was entitled to any unpaid minimum or overtime wages.

Jury verdict and award. The jury found in favor of the employee on her claims of sex discrimination based on her promotion, sex discrimination based on her reduced hours, and hostile work environment claims based on being a lactating woman, her constructive discharge, her demotion, and her reduced hours.

On these claims, the jury awarded the employee $25,000 in compensatory damages and $1,500,000 in punitive damages against the KFC chain.

The employee filed her lawsuit, Lampkins v. Mitra QSR, LLC, in the District of Delaware; the case is No. 1:16-cv-00647-GMS.

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