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Jury finds two Delaware KFC locations discriminated against breastfeeding supervisor

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This Jan. 31, 2014, file photo, shows a Taco Bell facade behind a KFC drive-thru sign (Elise Amendola/AP Photo, File)

This Jan. 31, 2014, file photo, shows a Taco Bell facade behind a KFC drive-thru sign (Elise Amendola/AP Photo, File)

A federal jury in Delaware has ruled that two Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants discriminated against a breastfeeding mother who worked there as a supervisor.

Jurors awarded the woman $1.5 million in punitive damages because she was subject to bias and a hostile work environment. Although federal law limits such awards to $300,000, the victim’s attorney and a local lactation consultant say the verdict sends a stern message to employers.

The jury found that two limited liability companies, Mitra QSR and Mitra QSR KNE, which own several KFC franchises, were liable.

The problem started in Dec. 2014 when Autumn Lampkins, who had a 4-month-old son, was hired as assistant manager at a KFC near Dover.

She was permitted to pump milk for her baby — first in a single-stall bathroom where time was limited because it was used by others, and later in a manager’s office. The office had a window and a surveillance camera, and co-workers often barged in while she was pumping. Employees frequently complained about her breaks, and some threatened to walk out.

Lampkins was demoted, her pay was cut, and she was transferred to a nearby store that also had a Taco Bell. At the new location, she rarely had time to pump. She stopped doing so at work, and soon her milk supply dried up.

Lactation consultant Katie Madden said the verdict should serve to remind employers “that they need to understand the unique needs of a lactating mother in the workplace. They need to understand both state and federal laws protect her and give her certain accommodations.”

Madden said that “as far as peer interactions, all that comes from leadership,” Madden said. “Setting a clear message to employees that … this is none of your business, that this is her personal experience, her personal need. And why she is awarded break time is none of their concern.”

Patrick Gallagher, who represented Lampkins, said the jury agreed “that lactating women need to be treated respectfully and not be treated differently than any other worker. It was a great day for women’s rights — and specifically for the rights of women who are lactating and trying to express breast milk while working and supporting their family.”

Lawyers for the two Mitra entities that own the KFC franchises did not respond to  requests for comment.

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