A court in Delaware has ordered a local KFC franchise to pay more than $1.5 million in punitive damages after it was found to have illegally denied a former employee the right to pump breastmilk for her newborn baby on the restaurant premises. Ex-KFC staff member Autumn Lampkins finally settled her suit on Friday, after successfully proving that conditions on the job had amounted to discrimination based on gender.
27-year-old Lampkins joined the business in 2014 as an assistant manager, just a few months after giving birth to her son. She was told during her interview that the new position would not affect her ability to care for her child, and that she would be allowed to pump breast milk whenever required. However, once she had started, it became clear that the situation was far removed from had been promised.
Instead of being given time to pump milk once every two hours, as recommended by her doctors, Lampkins was immediately required to work 10-hour training sessions, with just one break. The court heard that her inability to pump regularly ultimately led to her milk supply completely drying up.
On top of the ultimately disastrous lack of break times, Lampkins was also initially only able to pump in a single-stall bathroom. While far from ideal, the situation at least afforded some privacy. However, Lampkins was soon forced by senior officials at the franchise to pump in the manager’s office, in full view of a security camera which was told could not be turned off.
Things got even worse once her training had been completed. When she took up her full time position at a branch in Dover, she was suddenly and inexplicably demoted, despite having just being hired to fill a management position. It transpired that the change was due to colleagues complaining that Lampkins was getting “too many breaks” to pump milk. This situation, as outlined in the suit, not only caused the young mother significant physical pain, but also forced her to switch to formula much sooner than she would have liked.
Despite the hardship of the previous few years, the success of the suit was warmly received by Lampkins and her legal team. After a jury awarded $25,000 in compensatory damages and $1.5 million in punitive damages, lawyer Patrick Gallagher, of Wilmington firm Jacobs & Crumplar P.A., called the judgement “a great and long-fought victory,” in a conversation with The News Journal. Gallagher also went on to add, “It’s a great day for women’s rights. The jury sent a message that employers cannot treat lactating women differently in the workplace.”
Despite what looks on the surface to be a happy ending, there may be a twist for Lampkins and her legal team. according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, there is a limit on compensatory and punitive damages against employers, even for the biggest employers, of $300,000. It remains to be seen whether Lampkins is an exception. Whatever the outcome, the case just goes to show how far we have to go for equality in the workplace.