Ask the Lawyer By: Daniel A. Gwinn, Esq.
QUESTION: I was asked to leave the dining room of restaurant in Oakland County after I began breastfeeding my six-month old baby boy. I was embarrassed at being singled out and directed to the womens’ restroom, which I felt was an inappropriate place to attend to my child. Am I right to feel wronged?
ANSWER: If that outrageous incident occurred recently, you may have a cause of action. The state of Michigan joined a growing number of other states in June, 2014, by legislating greater freedoms and protections for breastfeeding women. On June 24, 2014, the State of Michigan enacted the Breastfeeding Antidiscrimination Act. The statute prohibits the denial of equal enjoyment of the goods or services of a “place of public accommodation” to a woman because she is breastfeeding a child. A “place of public accommodation” is a business, educational institution, or a refreshment, entertainment, recreation, health, or transportation facility of any kind” where goods or services are offered or made available to the public. A restaurant would definitely fall under the definition of a “place of public accommodation.”
The statute states that a person with control over a public accommodation may not post, print, mail, or circulate an advertisement or notice indicating that goods or services will or may be withheld from breastfeeding women. A place of public accommodation may not interfere with a woman’s patronage of or presence at place of public accommodation or state her presence or patronage is objectionable or unwelcome because she is breastfeeding a child. Interestingly enough, the statute does not define “child,” which may broaden the scope of protected women beyond those with an infant.
When the restaurant staff pulled you out of the dining room they interfered with your patronage of the restaurant. A person who believes her rights were violated under the statute may file a civil action for actual damages. The available remedies include injunctive relief, or an order to compel the place of public accommodation to refrain from further discriminatory conduct. The statute expressly provides for the award of the costs of litigation, including attorney and witness fees, to the complaining party. In addition, breastfeeding women in public cannot be charged with indecent exposure or disorderly conduct.
Breastfeeding in public places will most likely become more prevalent with the passage of the Breastfeeding Antidiscrimination Act and amendments to Michigan’s criminal laws. What was once considered a crime is now a protected activity. The wheels of justice sometimes turn slowly. A natural human instinctual trait has been recognized as a lawful – only thousands of years since the emergence of our species!
The lawyers at GWINN TAURIAINEN PLLC are experienced attorneys and are happy to answer your questions. Give us a call for a free initial telephone consultation about your legal needs. For consideration of your questions in our web column, please submit your inquiry on the “Contact Us” page of our website at www.gwinntauriainenlaw.com.
ASK THE LAWYER
By: Daniel A. Gwinn, Esq.
Attorney and Counselor at Law
GWINN TAURIAINEN PLLC
901 Wilshire Drive, Suite 550
Troy, MI 48084
(248) 247-3310 facsimile