The ACLU of RI today filed a lawsuit against the Ocean Community YMCA in Westerly on behalf of Elizabeth Gooding for violating her right to breastfeed in public. The suit, filed in Rhode Island Superior Court by ACLU volunteer attorney H. Jefferson Melish, claims that the facility repeatedly prohibited Gooding from breastfeeding her baby in public, in violation of state anti-discrimination laws and a statute specifically allowing breastfeeding in public.
Elizabeth Gooding of Hopkinton, RI is a mother of three and a former Ocean Community YMCA employee and member. The complaint claims that in February 2015, while nursing her one-year-old infant in the YMCA’s daycare area, Gooding was told by YMCA employees that she could not breastfeed her child. After the incident, several YMCA supervisors confirmed that she would not be allowed to breastfeed in public due to “concerns about young boys.”
A month later, Gooding again attempted to breastfeed her daughter there, and was again told by staff and supervisors that she could not nurse publicly. Gooding then spoke directly with Maureen Fitzgerald, the Ocean Community YMCA President and CEO, who denied that there was any need to change the center’s public breastfeeding policy, refused to hold a training for employees, and added that Gooding should be “more discreet.” The complaint further notes that later in 2015, after the above incidents, Gooding was told that she could no longer bring her baby to the mom/baby yoga class that she taught.
Plaintiff Gooding said today: “I am speaking out for women who have been shamed, degraded, harassed, or otherwise prevented from nurturing their children by breastfeeding. Following the extremely upsetting incidents of breastfeeding discrimination at the YMCA, I made a choice that I would take a stand in hopes of enacting effective change in support of one of our most natural civil rights. I encourage women who face breastfeeding discrimination not to be silenced but to raise your voice.”
Added ACLU volunteer attorney Melish: “Rhode Island state law specifically protects the right of women who are openly breastfeeding to do so anywhere they are authorized to be. Given this law and the fact that breastfeeding is associated with numerous benefits, it’s disheartening that discrimination against nursing mothers still exists. This suit is proof that people still need to be made aware that, in Rhode Island, public breastfeeding is a legal right.”