Mom denied breaks to pump breast milk at Home Depot asks judge to reconsider ruling

A mother who sought unpaid breaks to pump breast milk for her baby while working at Home Depot in Nampa has asked a judge to reconsider his dismissal of her lawsuit against the company.

Randi Allred, a former assistant manager, says U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill did not take into account the discomfort to herself and the danger to her newborn when she was not allowed breaks to pump milk and store it.

Winmill ruled June 28 in favor of a motion by Home Depot for summary judgment, which means there’s insufficient evidence for the case to go before a jury.

Allred worked for Home Depot for four years in Meridian and Nampa. When her son was born in October 2016, she supervised the Nampa store’s lumber, hardware, plumbing and professional contractor departments.

In the suit, Allred claimed that the store director, Josh Hazlett, refused repeated requests to allow her to collect milk for her son. The child was allergic to cow’s milk and soy, the main components of formula.

Upon her doctor’s recommendation, Allred sought accommodation from Home Depot during her pregnancy that she work no more than five days in a row or lift more than 20 pounds. Hazlett denied the request, saying it would not be fair to Allred’s peers.

Allred was allowed to go on family leave and to take an unpaid leave of absence until January 2017. When she returned to work, Allred sought additional work breaks to accommodate milk pumping.

Hazlett denied her requests. The judge found that Hazlett aimed derogatory comments toward Allred,including ones suggesting that Allred’s pumping breast milk was just her “diet plan to lose weight.”

Winmill wrote that Allred rejected an offer from store human resources manager Diana Quanstrom and district manager Trevor Cantwell offering to smooth things over with Hazlett. The officials also offered to allow Allred to transfer to another store.

Allred quit less than four weeks after returning to work. She sued in 2017, seeking at least $75,000 in damages and $2,340 in vacation wages she claimed the company refused to pay her. Winmill rejected the claim for vacation pay, saying the company proved she didn’t have any vacation time left.

Allred argued that she was “constructively discharged,” meaning conditions were so bad a reasonable person in her position would have quit. Winmill disagreed.

“Even though the court finds that there is sufficient direct evidence to conclude that discrimination occurred, Allred cannot show that she was constructively discharged,” the judge wrote in his 40-page ruling.

In a motion for reconsideration filed late Friday, Boise attorney Shelly Cozakos said Winmill didn’t take into account that at the time Allred quit she was a nursing mother in pain, with leaking breasts and a milk supply that was rapidly decreasing. She needed to pump every three hours, according to an order provided by her doctor.

“Without sufficient milk supply, Ms. Allred was unable to provide adequate nutrition to her baby, and her baby was solely dependent upon breast milk for nutrition because he was intolerant to store-bought formula,” Cozakos wrote.

No reasonable working mother would stay in a job that did not allow her to pump enough milk to feed her baby or stay in a job where she had to work in physical pain because of engorged breasts leaking milk, she wrote.

“Ms. Allred did not have time to wait and see whether Quanstrom or Cantwell would make sure that Josh Hazlett would cease the discrimination against Ms. Allred and assist her with being able to take the crucial pumping breaks she had to have in order to stay at her job,” she wrote.

Winmill also failed to consider Allred’s argument that she suffered an adverse employment action because she was denied an accommodation afforded to other employees, Cozakos wrote.

“A woman who is breast-feeding has to regularly express her breast milk on a schedule,” she wrote. “If she cannot do so, her breasts become engorged, can leak and her milk supply dwindles and then eventually dries up.”

Allred said working conditions had become so intolerable that she couldn’t continue.

Home Depot disputed that. Winmill wrote that Quanstrom, the human resources manager, and Cantwell, the district manager, assured Allred that any damage to Allred’s relationship with Hazlett could be repaired. They also offered her the option to move to a different store, which she declined.

Cozakos said neither Quanstrom nor Cantwell offered specific remedies to Allred, but instead said they would work around the problems. In a deposition, Allred said, Quanstrom did not promise that Allred would receive scheduled breaks to pump milk. And Cantwell testified that he “could talk to” Allred about moving to another store but did not testify he would.

Another Home Depot, employee, Jamie Frederick, said in a court document that she had been able to take breaks to pump milk without difficulty. She said Allred told her that her husband “wanted her to be at home rather than working, and he complained about having to heat up stored breast milk for the baby while she was at work.”

Frederick said Allred never complained about Home Depot or Hazlett or said working conditions were intolerable, Winmill noted in his ruling.

The judge said Allred’s case did not strike him as a “particularly strong one.” He said she relied on her written declaration to create “material issues of fact.”

“Home Depot did everything in its power to convince Allred to stay after Hazlett’s supervisors were made aware of his conduct,” Winmill wrote. “Denying Home Depot summary judgment would, in effect, strip employers of the ability and opportunity to remedy workplace misconduct.”

Margaret Smith, a Home Depot spokeswoman, said the company was pleased with the ruling.

“We appreciate the time of the court,” she said in an emailed statement.

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Reporter John Sowell has worked for the Statesman since 2013. He covers business and growth issues. He grew up in Emmett and graduated from the University of Oregon.If you like seeing stories like this, please consider supporting our work with a digital subscription to the Idaho Statesman.