Accommodation: Attorney worked with WLAM to help establish lactation rooms at courts

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

When Clark Hill attorney Bethany Stawasz returned from maternity leave last July, re-entering the litigation world was not the only challenge.

“It was incredibly important to me that I continue breastfeeding Joseph,” Stawasz says, adding the American Academy of Pediatrics, U.S. Surgeon General, and World Health Organization all recommend infants be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of life, combined with solid foods until the infant is a year old; and that infants breastfed exclusively have been proven to grow up to have higher IQs, lower rates of obesity, less tooth decay, and less chance of other health concerns. 

“I was determined that absolutely nothing would stand in my son’s way of enjoying the full benefits of breastfeeding – especially not his mama’s career,” Stawasz says.
Clark Hill provided a Mothers’ Room with a fridge, freezer, and workstation.

“My employer was very accommodating, and the partners were also very supportive and respectful of my schedule,” says Stawasz, who uses the room two to three times a day.

However, Stawasz often is outside the office for depositions, status and settlement conferences, and court hearings, appearances that may last several hours.

“I initially found many courthouse employees were sympathetic when I asked for help, but nursing attorneys should not have to rely on the impromptu kindness of individual court staffers to ensure they will be able to pump if needed,” she says.

Shortly after returning to work, Stawasz attended a motion call in a district court that she knew might last about four hours. She phoned ahead of time to the judge’s clerk, who offered her the use of the jury room.

When Stawasz arrived, however, she was unable to find the clerk.

“I ended up spending the two hours before my case was called looking for her and fretting about whether I would need to pump, instead of mentally preparing to argue my motion,” she says. “I did just fine, but it would have been nice to focus on my case, instead of watching the clock.”

Taking up the torch on behalf of nursing mothers, Stawasz contacted the Women Lawyers Association of Michigan (WLAM), which went to bat for her.

Nursing mothers—whether attorneys, litigants, jurors, witnesses, or other courthouse users—now have access to private lactation rooms in each of the four Third Circuit Courts in Wayne County. And thanks to the continued efforts of WLAM, other courts around the state are following suit. 

“WLAM has referred this issue to our Gender Equity Committee to work on expanding lactation rooms to other courts in Michigan,” says WLAM President Julie A. Gafkay of Gafkay Law PLC. “Wayne County Circuit Court was the first court WLAM worked with and the chief court administrator, Zenell Brown, was very receptive and acted quickly to implement creating lactation rooms. 

“We’ll be using Wayne County as a model for other courts. The same week Wayne County launched its lactation rooms, Washtenaw County created a Mothers’ Room for nursing mothers and women who wanted a space to express milk in the courthouse.  WLAM will be following these counties to recommend policies statewide.”

WLAM has added a page on its website at https://www.womenlawyers.org/courthouse-lactation-rooms/ to serve as a resource on courthouses with lactation rooms.

Stawasz was surprised to find many people in the legal field do not understand the needs of a nursing attorney—and also that many female colleagues provided formula for their babies instead, to avoid raising the issue with courthouse personnel or opposing counsel.  

At its core, Stawasz notes this is a babies’ issue, rather than a women’s issue.

“We know breastfeeding is the absolute best source of nutrition for babies, so if our society truly wants the best for our children, and future adults, then we need to do all we can to encourage moms to breastfeed and then make it feasible for them to do so—which is why the actions of the Wayne and Washtenaw County courts are so great, and is a strong showing of the value our society places on the health of our littlest constituents – babies,” she says.

“Joseph is now one-year-old, 25 pounds, very healthy, and still breastfed, thanks to Clark Hill, the WLAM, and the accommodations offered to me by courthouses around the state.”

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