WILMINGTON, Del. – A jury has ruled that a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchisee must pay a Delaware woman it once employed more than $1.5 million in damages related to workplace discrimination that ultimately made it impossible for her to breastfeed her child.
The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court claimed that co-workers and supervisors at KFC and KFC/Taco Bell restaurants in Kent County made it so hard for Autumn Lampkins to pump breast milk during her shifts that her supply dried up.
A jury agreed with the gender discrimination and harassment claims outlined in the lawsuit, which argued that discrimination during Lampkins’ employment at the fast-food restaurants in Camden and Dover make it difficult for Lampkins to pump breast milk as often as needed.
Not only that, but when she was able to pump during her shifts, she rarely had privacy because of windows and surveillance cameras, the lawsuit said.
On Friday, a jury entered a verdict in favor of the Wyoming resident, awarding her $25,000 in compensatory damages and $1.5 million in punitive damages.
The jury found Lampkins proved in trial that she suffered from discrimination and a hostile work environment while employed at the two Delaware restaurants, court documents show.
However, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, there is a limit on compensatory and punitive damages against employers. For even the biggest employers, the cap is $300,000.
“It was a great and long-fought victory,” said one of Lampkins’ attorneys, Patrick Gallagher of Wilmington law firm Jacobs & Crumplar P.A.
“It’s a great day for women’s rights,” Gallagher said. “The jury sent a message that employers cannot treat lactating women differently in the workplace.”
Lawyers representing the franchisee, Texas-based Mitra QSR LLC, did not respond to a request for comment. Other motions and appeals can still be filed in the case.
Lampkins was hired by the fast-food chain a few months after giving birth to a son in 2014 and was told her decision to breastfeed would not be a problem, according to the lawsuit.
But she was only allowed to pump about once during each 10-hour training shift at the KFC/Taco Bell in Camden – not once every two hours as recommended, documents filed with the federal court show.
She pumped in a single-stall bathroom before she was asked to instead pump in the manager’s office, where there was a surveillance camera that she was told could not be turned off, the lawsuit said.
Once she was done training, she was transferred to another KFC in Dover where she was demoted and struggled with insubordination from co-workers complaining that she got “breaks” to pump her breast milk, the lawsuit stated.
For those reasons, and other examples outlined in court documents, Lampkins said she suffered physical pain and ultimately moved her baby on to formula earlier than planned, the lawsuit said.
Follow Maddy Lauria on Twitter @MaddyinMilford.
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