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MARTINEZ v. N.B.C.

May 18, 1999

ALICIA MARTINEZ, PLAINTIFF,
v.
N.B.C. INC. AND M.S.N.B.C. INC., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kaplan, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

The transformation in the role of women in our culture and workplace in recent decades and the civil rights movement perhaps will be viewed as the defining social changes in American society in this century. Both have resulted in important federal, state and local legislation protecting those previously excluded from important roles from discrimination in pursuit of the goal of equality. Nevertheless, few would deny that the problems facing women who wish to bear children while pursuing challenging careers at the same time remain substantial. This case illustrates one of those problems.

The core claim in this case is that plaintiff's employer, MSNBC Cable LLC ("MSNBC") was insufficiently accommodating of plaintiff's desire to pump breast milk in the workplace so that she could breast feed her child while also returning to work promptly after childbirth. She sues under the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990*fn1 (the "ADA") and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended*fn2 ("Title VII"). Discovery having been completed, the defendants move for summary judgment dismissing the complaint.

Facts

As the material evidentiary facts are not matters of controversy and the dispositive questions concern the scope of the antidiscrimination statutes upon which plaintiff relies, the facts may be summarized briefly.

The principal defendant, MSNBC, is a 24-hour-a-day, all-news cable television network launched in July 1996. In May 1996, it hired plaintiff Alicia Martinez as an associate producer at a salary of $47,000 per annum as a result of Martinez contacting Bob Epstein, an MSNBC executive whom she had known in their prior jobs at CBS. Before accepting the position, Martinez told Epstein that she was pregnant.

Martinez decided that she would breast feed her son. When she returned to work in March 1997, she bought an electric breast pump to pump breast milk to feed her child when she was not available to nurse him. With Walker's consent, Martinez left her work to pump breast milk three times a day for periods of about twenty minutes.

Martinez pumped breast milk in an empty edit room at MSNBC's New Jersey studio without incident from May until late July. At that point, someone tried to enter the room with a key while she was inside, and she became upset. Two similar incidents occurred over a few weeks. There is no reason to suppose that any of the people who tried the door while Martinez was in the room knew that she was there.

During this period, Martinez raised concerns about her privacy with MSNBC human resources officials. She rejected a suggestion that she simply put a "do not disturb" sign on the door. She rejected also, for a variety of reasons, a number of alternative sites offered by MSNBC.

When Martinez returned to full-time work in June 1997, her basic schedule was Monday, Tuesday and Friday from 7 a.m. until 4 p.m. and Wednesday and Thursday from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. But it was well known that producers in her job at times were scheduled to work additional hours to handle breaking news stories, program needs and vacation schedules. Starting in August 1997, however, difficulties began concerning the schedule. Martinez contends that Walker became less accommodating of her scheduling concerns, which revolved about her child care needs. In consequence, she asked another MSNBC executive whether she could obtain a more regular schedule if she moved back to an associate producer position. She was told that she would have a more regular schedule in such a position, but would have to work one weekend day and take less money.

On approximately September 1, Martinez met with Epstein and human resources personnel regarding the scheduling issue. Epstein suggested the associate producer job. Martinez objected because it would require her to work on weekends and said that she would be looking for a job elsewhere. She said that she wished to continue as a producer until she left provided MSNBC would give her several weeks' notice of any schedule changes. Epstein responded that she would have to work the hours required in order to remain a producer.

While the dates are unclear, Martinez complains also of three occasions on which a male co-worker allegedly made offensive comments regarding her breast pumping.

On August 31, Princess Diana was killed, resulting in enormous media coverage that continued through her funeral on September 6. Mother Teresa died on September 5, which also resulted in extensive media activity through her funeral on September 13. These events placed enormous demands on MSNBC, which was in "24 [hour] coverage" and brought in everyone in Martinez's department. Martinez, however, worked only one extra weekend shift ...


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