LSAC Refuses to Accommodate Nursing Mother

(cross-posted from http://hlsorgs.com/wla/blog/)

Remember that morning of the LSAT? Chewing on the end of your pencil as they passed out score sheets? Bubbling in those logic game answers with one eye on the clock?

Imagine doing all that with milk leaking onto your paper.

This past Saturday, one lactating mother took the LSAT without a break to express milk or breastfeed. Despite early and persistent requests from this future law student, MomsRising, the ACLU Womens Rights Project and others, the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) refused to allow Ashley an extended break time to pump (express milk) in the middle of the LSAT. The test has only one 15 minute break during the test, not nearly long enough to set up a breast pump in a private space, express milk, clean up, and store the milk (not to mention maybe, oh, use the restroom or have a quick snack).

Mothers should not have to choose between breastfeeding and going to law school - the choice the LSAC is effectively leaving Ashley with by hampering her ability to take the LSAT. The LSAC’s refusal to accommodate Ashley harkens back to the Bradwell era, where the Supreme Court denied Myra Bradwell the right to apply for the Illinois bar. Bradwell v. Illinois, 83 U.S. 130 (1873). Ashley’s access to the legal profession, like Myra Bradwell’s, is effectively denied (or at the very least curtailed) if the LSAC leaves her unable to pump during the break this Saturday.

You can read the ACLU Women’s Rights Project blog post about this issue and Ashley’s predicament here.

Please join me in supporting Ashley!

- Kristi Jobson, WLA HLS Moms Network Chair
1. Join the ACLU’s petition in support of Ashley.

2. Send an email to the LSAC Director of Communications, Wendy Margolis and LSAC’s General Counsel, Joan Van Tol and let them know that this is unacceptable and express your support for Ashley and other lactating mothers. A sample email is below, as well as the text of my email to them.

3. Comment publicly on the LSAC facebook page.
Dear Ms. Margolis and Ms. Van Tol:

I am a current Harvard Law School student. I am very upset that LSAC will not accommodate a nursing mother. The policy is wrong because it 1) discourages new mothers from taking the LSAT, a necessary step to attending Law School and 2) only impacts women (the group of people who could possibly be nursing) and thus is a form of gender discrimination.

I urge you to immediately change your policy to accommodate nursing mothers taking the LSAT. The legal profession was long hostile to women, but the hard work of advocates has made progress to turn the profession and legal education around to welcome women. LSAC needs to be part of the effort, not take us backwards.

Thank you and I look forward to receiving a response.

[Name]

Thanks to 2010-2011 WLA President Cari Simon for her help drafting this template!
Dear Ms. Margolis and Ms. Van Tol:

As a third-year Harvard Law student and nursing mother, I learned with dismay and outrage that you have refused to accommodate a nursing mother’s request for a slightly extended break time during the LSAT to express milk for her infant child. I write to urge you to immediately change this policy, and to contact this mother immediately and apologize for impacting her access to an education and to the legal profession.

The benefits of breastfeeding to mothers, infants, and families are clear and well-documented. Just this past January, the U.S. Surgeon General released “The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding” – you can find the Executive Summary here, which will give you a primer on the benefits of breastfeeding. A myriad of federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, have written extensively in support of nursing, and Congress is currently considering the Breastfeeding Promotion Act of 2011. I encourage you to read about these efforts to educate yourselves to better understand why Ashley has chosen to breastfeed her child, and I am certain you will understand why you should support her efforts.

Lactating women must nurse or express milk every few hours. This not only provides valuable nutrition to the infant, but also prevents engorgement, infection to the nipples, mastitis, as well as everyday discomfort and leaking. As a law school student and nursing mother, I feel uncomfortable and distracted when meetings or class sessions run long, concerned for my hungry son at home (and often covered in milk once I start thinking about him). It can be awkward to try to explain why I need to leave, right now, because my breasts are completely full and painful. I cannot imagine how distracted and uncomfortable I’d feel if I was in the midst of the LSAT, the gateway exam to law school and the legal profession. Knowing that my performance that day could determine the rest of my life (quite literally), painful and leaking breasts would tremendous compound a normal case of nerves.

For this reason, Congress amended the Fair Labor Standards Act to require employers to provide “reasonable break time” for wage-earning lactating employees to express milk for the first year of their child’s life. This provision became effective on March 23, 2010 with passage of the Affordable Care Act. You can find FAQs about this law here. Many private employers, including yours, I suspect, provide lactation rooms and flexible break time to pump. While the LSAC is not in an employer-employee relationship with Ashley, I query why you would deny her the reasonable benefit so many women are entitled to under federal law.

A solution is simple here: allow mothers a 30-minute break in the middle of the test. This will be cutting it close with setting up a pump, expressing milk (which typically takes about 15-20 minutes), cleaning up, and returning to the test classroom, but it could be done and will certainly help. As I know that you are required to provide separate testing facilities for a number of students with extenuating circumstances such as learning disabilities, religious obligations, and medical conditions, I feel confident that you have the infrastructure and procedures ready to figure out how to provide a different schedule for lactating mothers like Ashley.

As a board member of the Harvard Law Students for Reproductive Justice and the Harvard Women’s Law Association, and the co-Editor-in-Chief of the Harvard Journal of Law & Gender, I have written members of all organizations and urged them to contact you in support of Ashley and all nursing mothers. I imagine that students across the country are contacting you today, given how incensed many are that you will not grant Ashley an extra fifteen minutes to pump.

I encourage you to listen to the voices of students, and NOT end up on the wrong side of history. I have been doing a lot of research this semester on legal scholarship related to lactation, and mark my words, your refusal to accommodate Ashley will invite a barrage of negative commentary in the short-term and in the long-term be cited along with the infamous Perrigo case as an example of wrong-headed and discriminatory policy.

I look forward to hearing your response soon.

Regards,

Kristi Jobson

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