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Former Falmouth teacher claims she was fired for pumping breast milk

In a lawsuit, the former teacher's attorney said she had strong performance reviews prior to having her child, but she claims those ratings declined as a form of retaliation from coworkers.
Credit: Getty Images

FALMOUTH, Maine — A lawsuit brought by a former Falmouth school teacher claims she was fired for pumping breast milk during the school day.

Shana Swenson started working for the district in June 2015. In January 2017, she took maternity leave, returning in August of that year.

Swenson worked as a "Response to Intervention" teacher helping students in third through fifth grade who struggled with reading and math.

"During  the  first  two  years  of  her  employment  with Defendant, Plaintiff never received any counseling or disciplinary actions regarding her performance or otherwise and was often  times  praised  for  her  performance during  mini  and  full  classroom  observations," Swenson's lawyer wrote.

"On or about June 29, 2017, while Plaintiff was still on maternity leave, Gloria Noyes completed Plaintiff’s Probationary  Teacher  Summative  Evaluation for the  2016/2017  school  year  and  rated Plaintiff  “Highly  Effective”  in  25 categories,  “Effective”  in  31  categories,  and  “Improvement Necessary” in 0 categories."

Swenson requested to take roughly three breaks a day to pump breast milk or physically breastfeed her child, who was in the elementary school's daycare program, according to the lawsuit. She and her team of five educational technicians did not have a case load of students in August 2017 when she returned to work. 

"In an effort to give her team more predictability, Plaintiff distributed a group schedule inclusive of Plaintiff’s pumping/nursing break times – which spanned approximately every 2-3 hours and lasted approximately 20 minutes each," the lawyer writes.

The principal allegedly asked Swenson to reduce the number of breaks to two, and only during her lunch or planning time. Swenson said no.

Swenson claims that is when she started getting questions and criticism for coworkers for her breast milk pumping routines. Swenson claims she faced discrimination and retaliation.

The principal began an "investigation," according to the lawsuit. The principal later told Swenson that her coworkers claimed Swenson's performance and communication were lacking.

The principal then held a performance review with Swenson, which Swenson claimed she was concerned it was related to her prior complaints of discrimination.

The lawsuit claims that following the performance review, management in the school district began receiving negative comments in evaluations as a way to expedite her termination.

In late April, the principal told Swenson that she would not be recommending her for a continuing contract for the 2018/2019 school year.  The district superintendent later approved the principal's recommendation, even after Swenson told him her concerns that this was retaliation.

The lawsuit details that Swenson "was also informed by her union  representative  that the superintendent, Geoff Bruno, offered  to  keep  the  2017/2018 Summative  Evaluation out  of  her  file  provided  that  she  did not  take  legal  action  against Defendant,  which  only  further demonstrates  the  pretextual  nature  of  Plaintiff’s  2017/2018  Summative Evaluation and  Defendant’s decision to terminate Plaintiff."

Swenson believes she was wrongfully terminated. 

Melissa Hewey, a lawyer for Drummond Woodsum representing the school district, told NEWS CENTER Maine in a statement:

"Ms. Swenson’s claim that the Falmouth School Department discriminated against her is false. In fact, as we will be able to prove in court, the Falmouth School Department is committed to supporting its employees and their families by, among other things, providing mothers with paid time to breast feed and express breast milk during the school day, extended parental leave when needed, and an on-site day care for employees so that they are able to be near their children and participate in their care during the working day. Ms. Swenson took advantage of these benefits while she worked in Falmouth and was supported by administration and a team of caring colleagues when she returned to work as a new mother. It is therefore disappointing that she made the allegations she did. The decision not to continue Ms. Swenson’s contract was because she did not meet the standards that Falmouth has set for its teachers – nothing more, nothing less."

The lawsuit says Falmouth schools violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, the Maine Human Rights Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act.

This story will be updated.