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RI Supreme Court Adopts Breastfeeding Accommodations at Urging of Advocates, Attorneys

Posted: February 17, 2016|Category: Discrimination Gender Discrimination Women's Rights Workplace Rights

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The Rhode Island Supreme Court has adopted a new policy that will allow women Bar applicants who are breastfeeding to easily obtain accommodations when taking the Bar exam. The policy was adopted after a number of groups encouraged the Rhode Island Board of Bar Examiners to revise its policies that offered no accommodations to individuals who were breastfeeding, leaving them at a serious disadvantage during the test.

The new policy now explicitly extends eligibility for accommodations to those who are breastfeeding, and allows breastfeeding applicants to request and obtain accommodations without unnecessary or intrusive burdens. The ACLU of Rhode Island, Rhode Island Women’s Bar Association, League of Women Voters of Rhode Island, Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, Women’s Fund of Rhode Island, and Rhode Island NOW had sent a number of letters to the Board since last July calling for these reforms.

Jenn Steinfeld, executive director of the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island, said today: “Our organization applauds the Rhode Island Supreme Court’s recognition of the importance of accommodating breast feeding applicants. This is yet another step toward professional accessibility for all. Like Rhode Island’s new state law providing workplace protections for pregnant and breastfeeding employees, this policy helps ensure that parents don’t have to choose between the health of their children and their employment or career. We are proud to see Rhode Island promote gender equality and will remain vigilant to ensure it is implemented fairly.”

In their correspondence with the Board, the groups recommended accommodations such as allowing women to bring necessary medical equipment and supplies to the test, providing additional break time to express breast milk, or other accommodations an individual may need to ensure women do not suffer any medical issues. Not allowing for such accommodations, the groups noted, forced candidates needing accommodations related to breastfeeding to choose between taking the test under conditions that could place their health at risk and postponing their test date until they were no longer breastfeeding.

Jane W. Koster, president of the League of Women Voters of RI, said: “The new policy in place for accommodations erases discrimination and prevents arbitrary decision-making, and thus offers the exam without bias or barriers against women who are breastfeeding.  In the future, I am sure we will hear success stories from women who found great convenience, comfort and ease of exam anxiety while profiting from these accommodations. I applaud the R.I. Supreme Court’s decision.”

Rhode Island now joins all other New England states and many others across the country that provide specific accommodations for women who are breastfeeding at the time of their Bar exam. The previous policy addressed only accommodations for people with disabilities.

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