OCRC finds discrimination with health club denying mother’s right to breast-feed
COLUMBUS: In a case of first impression the Ohio Civil Rights Commission (OCRC) last week issued a Probable Cause finding against Lifestyle Family Fitness for refusing to allow a mother to breast-feed her six-month old son at its health club located at 5929 E. Main Street in Columbus, Ohio.
The investigation into this matter revealed that a club patron, who at the time was breast-feeding her six-month-old son, was approached by a manger and told that she was not allowed to breast-feed in the childcare area of the club because it was not appropriate. This patron was also warned that if she did so again, the manager would revoke her privilege to use the childcare services provided as part of her club membership.
“Women still face many barriers to equality and fairness, not only in the workplace, but in society in general,” said G. Michael Payton, OCRC Executive Director. “A mother's choice to breastfeed is a fundamental right, and not allowing her to do so in a place of public accommodation is sex discrimination, plain and simple.”
In a written explanation of its finding, the OCRC explained why breast-feeding is not a legitimate reason for denying a patron full enjoyment of the advantages and privileges offered by the health club: “This reason breast-feeding is not one capable of being applied to all persons (let alone applied to all persons alike) regardless of sex because of the obvious fact that only women breast-feed. Indeed, prohibiting or placing restrictions upon breast-feeding in a place of public accommodation amounts to a denial of full enjoyment for a reason that, by definition, is not capable of being applied alike to all persons.”
According to its website (www.lff.com), Florida-based Lifestyle Family Fitness, Inc. “is one of the top 20 fastest growing fitness companies in the world,” with over 40 health clubs, and 9 in Central Ohio.
“This is just another example of how myths and stereotypes about gender roles continue to stifle and suppress women,” said Matt Miko, OCRC Chief Legal Counsel. “Our new Chair, Jeanine Donaldson, has made protecting women's rights a top priority for the Civil Rights Commission, and we intend to concentrate our efforts on eliminating antiquated rules and policies that unfairly target women, especially mothers.”
As a result of the probable cause finding, the OCRC will next attempt to resolve this matter through conciliation and other informal methods of conference and persuasion. If, however, these efforts are unsuccessful, the OCRC will issue a Formal Complaint and Notice of Public Hearing, at which time the Ohio Attorney General's Office will prosecute the complaint in an administrative hearing on behalf of the agency.