Ex-KFC Worker Awarded $1.5 Million for Breastfeeding Accommodation Violations

Author: Robert S. Teachout, XpertHR Legal Editor

February 20, 2019

A jury has awarded a former KFC worker $1.5 million in punitive damages for discriminatory actions by supervisors that were designed to hinder the employee's ability to express breast milk at work. The employee claimed that her supervisors' and coworkers' behavior was so severe it caused her milk supply to dry up, making it impossible for her to continue to breastfeed her child.

In the lawsuit filed in federal court in Delaware, Autumn Lampkins accused the owner of the KFC and KFC/Taco Bell fast-food franchises of gender discrimination and harassment by creating or allowing a hostile work environment.

KFC hired Lampkins as an assistant manager four months after she gave birth to her son. The company told her at the time of hiring that her pumping breast milk would not pose a problem. A manager first told Lampkins to pump in the single-stall bathroom.

Later, she was sent to pump in the manager's office. However, the office was equipped with a surveillance camera that could not be turned off and a large window through which her coworkers could - and did - look in while Lampkins was pumping. Her supervisor also would stay and continue to work while Lampkin was in the office.

During her training, Lampkins was only able to pump about once during each of her 10-hour shifts, instead of once every two hours as recommended by her doctor. After completing training, the district manager transferred Lampkins to another store as a shift supervisor instead of as an assistant manager. The lawsuit stated that the manager told Lampkins the "demotion to shift supervisor was because she was pumping breastmilk while at work," and would make it easier to do so.

The lawsuit also claimed that employees were insubordinate to Lampkins and complained about her taking breaks to pump while they still had to work, even threatening to walk out. But the managers refused to address the situation, according to the complaint.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires employers to provide mothers with reasonable break time to express breast milk during the first year of their child's life. Employers also must designate a private space where employees can pump that is obscured from public view and is not a bathroom. Many states also have breastfeeding break requirements, some more stringent than federal law. While Lampkins did not prevail on her FLSA claim because there was no remedy, the jury found KFC had discriminated against her.

Following a trial, the jury awarded Lampkins $25,000 in compensatory damages and $1.5 million in punitive damages. However, the damages likely will be reduced on appeal due to a statutory cap.