The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island is taking legal action against a local YMCA for allegedly violating a former employee's right to breastfeed her daughter inside the facility.
In February 2015, Elizabeth Gooding—a former yoga teacher at the Ocean Community YMCA, Westerly, Rhode Island—said she was twice asked to not breastfeed near the center's child-care area because "young boys" would see her, according to a complaint filed in Washington County Superior Court.
After the episode, Gooding met with the local Y's president, Maureen Fitzgerald, who told her to be more “discreet” with her breastfeeding, the complaint said. By the end of 2015, Gooding was told she was no longer permitted to bring her baby to the mother-and-baby yoga class she taught, after which she stopped working at the Y.
“If a mother cannot feed her baby in the day care of a family establishment, where can she nurse?” Gooding said, according to an article by the Washington Post. “The YMCA should be supporting breastfeeding moms and their babies, not deterring them."
Gooding has also called on women to gather at their local YMCAs for a “nurse-in” on June 11.
This is not the first conflict surrounding public breast-feeding in recent years. In March 2015, The Earlywine Park YMCA in Moore, Oklahoma, drew criticism after an employee asked two breastfeeding moms to do so in the family locker room rather than in the women's locker room. LA Fitness faced a similar controversy over an April 2014 incident involving a breastfeeding mother.
YMCA spokesman Brad McDermott said incidents such as Gooding's could be the fault of young or part-time employees who are unaware of state policies and "simply not exposed to breast-feeding on a regular basis," according to the Post report. McDermott said at least 20,000 of the YMCA's 250,000 nationwide employees work on a part-time basis.
“Breast-feeding is something we actively encourage of mothers and families who are members of the YMCA, and something we support in accordance with the recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics,” McDermott told the Post.
Gooding's complaint also claims the Y violated Rhode Island's Civil Rights Act and is guilty of gender discrimination.
“The statute is quite clear and, on the face of it, the YMCA does not follow state law,” H. Jefferson Melish, the ACLU attorney representing Gooding, told the Post.