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Barnes & Noble pays the price for breastfeeding mother being told to cover up or leave store

July 11th, 2014  |  Deborah Hammonds

Earlier this week, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and bookseller Barnes & Noble announced the settlement of a complaint stemming from an incident between an assistant manager and a female customer who was breastfeeding her son. The incident illustrates how important it is for employers to ensure their staff is familiar with all applicable antidiscrimination laws.

On March 16, an assistant manager approached a woman in the company’s Nanuet, New York store and asked her to cover up or leave the store while breastfeeding her son. The New York Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau opened an investigation into the national chain after the woman filed a complaint about the incident. Under New York State law, a mother may breastfeed her baby in any location, so long as she otherwise has the right to be there, regardless of whether she is covered while nursing. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the law’s passage.

Under the agreement, Barnes & Noble will train all New York store employees and managers on its breastfeeding policy, which prohibits employees from interfering with a mother’s right to breastfeed at its stores. The agreement also requires the retailer to strengthen its customer complaint resolution procedures with respect to the handling of complaints received from breastfeeding mothers and display the international symbol for breastfeeding at the entrances to its New York stores. In addition, the company will pay $10,000 to Rockland County to support the activities of its Breastfeeding Promotion and Support Program.

“All New York residents, including breastfeeding mothers, must be afforded equal protection under the law,” Schneiderman said in a July 9 statement. “No mother should endure harassment for breastfeeding her baby in public. There is one set of rules for everyone in New York, and I applaud Barnes & Noble for taking steps to ensure that moms are not harassed or discriminated against.”

Barnes & Noble, the nation’s largest retail bookseller, operates 42 stores in New York State.