When I was kicked out of a Montreal store for breastfeeding, one of the first things I did was to write a letter to the store and ask for an apology. The second was to file a human rights complaint.
I’m happy to say that the complaint has now been settled out of court by the Quebec Human Rights Commission.
My original letter of complaint asked for three things:
- An apology
- An official store policy that permitted breastfeeding in Orchestra stores
- To make the store policy public
It took a few days, after the media covered the story, for the store to reply but I got my apology.
The letter was distributed to the press, but you can read a copy here (in French).
The letter from the president of the company stated that he understood how I may have been hurt by what happened, but the action was that of a single, poorly trained, new employee who was not acting in the name of the company. The employee was disciplined, he added, and the policy in Orchestra stores is that mothers can breastfeed in the store “if they must”.
The president also offered to apologize in person, stated that he would do all in his power to ensure that nothing like this would happen again, though also that he could not completely control his employees’ behaviour, and he offered an apology. He also mentioned that his own children had been breastfed.
I accepted the apology, but it sure didn’t feel like justice.
I remember going home, feeling really down and I wasn’t sure why. It took a while to figure out.
Part of the reason for this was that while I was convinced of the letter writer’s sincerity, it didn’t seem that he took the situation seriously. There was no mention at all of a law being broken. Instead, it sounded a lot like the type of letter you would send to a client who had been treated rudely by an employee, the same type of letter you would receive if someone had refused to exchange a purchase.
The other reason was that it completely ignored the fact that while one employee asked me to stop breastfeeding, three employees were involved. Add to the fact that one of those was the manager and it seemed that there was more than just a single new employee at fault.
So I wrote back. The second letter was even harder to write.
I told the president that I believed he had been sincere, but that I though that he might have been (ahem!) misinformed about what had happened that day. I confirmed that it wasn’t just the case of one employee being rude, but of three employees breaking the law and infringing on my human rights. I asked him to produce a written policy allowing breastfeeding in his stores and to make it public. I also encouraged him to post the International Breastfeeding Symbol in the store. Not for people shopping there, but so that his employees would be reminded of the law. And I congratulated his wife for choosing to breastfeed, and him for supporting her. (I’m not a monster!)
He replied, said he would write a stern letter to his employees and distribute it to all of his franchisees.
This felt a better, but I worried that he might not follow through, and I would have no way of knowing, never mind enforcing, any such policy.
So I continued with the Quebec human rights complaint.
I asked for the public apology (which I had already received), and proof of a public breastfeeding policy.
I could also have asked for monetary compensation of around 3,000-4,000$. I almost certainly would have received it. But I chose not to.
What I really wanted was an assurance that this would never happen again. I wanted mothers to know that the law protects them. I wanted businesses to know that they cannot prevent women from breastfeeding. I wanted a legal record that a complaint had been lodged, and been found valid. I wanted everyone involved to know that this was a serious matter, a case of the law being broken.
On April 19, I reached a legal settlement with Orchestra. The president of the company agreed to sign an agreement (this is a draft without my address or our signatures) that includes having a public policy that allows breastfeeding in his stores.
Their official store policy is now as follows:
Nous vous rappelons, la politique Orchestra en matière d’allaitement :
La politique de l’entreprise est de favoriser de toutes les manières possibles, le bien être de nos clientes et clients, dans le point de vente.
Ainsi, s’il est besoin de le préciser clairement, les clientes qui désirent allaiter leur enfant dans le point de vente, doivent pouvoir le faire dans des conditions optimales et de sécurité.
Cette note, est une instruction, et tout manquement sera considéré comme une faute professionnelle.
(It basically states that the store policy is to encourage the well-being of clients in their stores and that women who choose to breastfeed there must be able to do this in an optimal and secure manner. Any disgression will be considered professional negligence.)
The company provided a photo of this statement, posted in the employee area of the store, to the Human Rights Tribunal.
The president and I also signed a legal document, that prevents me from suing the company or for collecting financial damages. However, it records what hapened in official, public documents. And should Orchestra ever act against the agreement, they could be held in contempt of court. Contempt of court can be punishable by a fine or jail time. What that means is that there is a way for me to enforce that policy through the courts in the future, if necessary. Though I hope that doesn’t happen, and I have no reason to believe that it will. (Of course, I’m not a lawyer, and this isn’t legal advice).
I want to stress that I opted not to request the financial compensation by choice, but I had the right to request it. I would almost certainly been awarded it. And, I would probably have had the agreement signed by the company anyway and probably in the same amount of time.
It just didn’t fit with what I needed to make things better.
And is it better? Let’s say that as far as Orchestra is concerned, it’s resolved. It’s still not fair that I had to go to the press to get an apology, or explain to my kids that some people have a problem with breastfeeding in public, or deal with the hate mail and the threats. It’s still not ok that the right people didn’t stand up for me. And I still know that I’m very privileged to know the law, to be able to speak out, to have supportive people around me. It still isn’t quite justice. And it still hurts.
It’s still hard to go out in public and breastfeed and not look over my shoulder and have to think about what people think and worry about my safety and that of my kids. It’s hard knowing that people think I’m a bad person, and a bad mother and a whore for doing exactly the right thing, the best thing for my tiny baby, and a “whiny feminist b%$*&^” and an activist just for talking about it.
What I really want is for this to never happen again to another mother. But since that’s impossible, I want it t be easier for that next mother, for every mother. Easier for her to know her rights, easier to speak out, easier for her to get justice in whatever way that means to her.
As I see it, we, as mothers, as women, may have legal protection, but we don’t yet have justice.
One thought on “It still isn’t quite justice.”
Wow! I hope you feel very proud of what you’ve done in spite of all the negative (horrific!) comments you have received.