Witness' Dismissal From Norwich Courtroom Brings Reminders About Breastfeeding Law

, The Connecticut Law Tribune

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The rights of women to breastfeed wherever they happen to be, including in courthouses, is in the legal forefront once again, after a witness in a criminal case was told she couldn't nurse her baby in the Norwich state courthouse.

It was only two years ago that a similar incident was reported — a prospective juror in Rockville was told by courthouse staff to nurse "in her car."

That case prompted a new state policy requiring the Judicial Branch to give sensitivity training to some workers and provide private rooms for jurors who wish to nurse or pump breast milk. The policy was intended to help raise awareness.

Now, another apparent lapse of judgment by a court official with regard to the rights of nursing mothers has some asking whether more ought to be done. Danielle Gendron, 25, was at the Norwich court to testify as a witness. But instead, the Norwich mother was told the leave after she began breastfeeding her 3-month-old son, Maddox.

"I went to feed him and the [judicial] marshal, just, you know, she immediately just waved me out," Gendron told the New Haven Register. "That's never happened to me, so I wasn't sure she was speaking to me at first so I kind of looked around and she was like you know get out."

The incident drew the ire of Michelle Griswold, chairwoman of the Connecticut Breastfeeding Coalition, who contacted the Judicial Branch to remind court administrators of the law. In response to Griswold's calls and media coverage in several newspapers, Judicial Branch officials issued a statement to remind its staff members that women have the right to nurse in public areas.

"The Judicial Branch regrets the error and has taken corrective action," Rhonda Stearley-Hebert, a spokeswoman for the Judicial Branch said on Dec. 10, about a week after the breast feeding incident t was reported. "The judicial marshal who made the error, all judicial marshals in the New London Judicial District and all judicial marshals statewide have been reminded of state law regarding one's ability to breastfeed in all Judicial Branch courthouses and facilities."

Two Sets Of Laws

In recent years, advocates have been pushing for greater acceptance of public breastfeeding and more accommodations for lactating mothers. Connecticut is one of 45 states and the District of Columbia with laws allowing women to breastfeed in any public or private location. Gendron said it is unreasonable to deny new mothers the right to feed their children in public.

"If we could all sit home with our babies 24/7 that would be great, but no one can do that and no one would be asked to leave anywhere if they were giving their baby a bottle," she said.

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