Company rescinded job offer when asked about accommodations for breastfeeding, Maine woman says in lawsuit

Megan Gray, Portland Press Herald, Maine
·5 min read

Apr. 9—A Readfield woman has filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against a medical supply company for rescinding a job offer after she asked if it could accommodate her breastfeeding.

The lawsuit follows an investigation by the Maine Human Rights Commission, which supported her claims.

Siera Boucher filed her complaint Thursday against Community Surgical Supply in U.S. District Court in Bangor. The company provides patients with equipment and services for medical care at home. It is headquartered in New Jersey, but its website lists three service locations in Maine.

Boucher said Community Surgical Supply took back its job offer after she asked if it would accommodate her breastfeeding during an out-of-state training, and her attorneys pointed to an internal email from a supervisor who said her questions raised "too many red flags."

"I was excited to go work for CSS," Boucher said in statement shared by her lawyers. "I just had a few questions about attending the one-week training while continuing to feed my baby. The new job with CSS was a great opportunity for me and my family and we were committed to making it work, including attending the one-week training in Connecticut. But CSS never gave me the chance."

A company representative did not return a voicemail Thursday. A New Jersey lawyer who represented the company before the Maine Human Rights Commission did not respond to an email. The court docket does not yet list an attorney for the company in this case.

Court documents outline the dispute. Boucher is a licensed respiratory therapist who applied for a position with Community Surgical Supply through Indeed.com in 2019. She completed two rounds of interviews and received a written job offer that same month. Before she accepted the offer, Boucher asked a human resources representative whether she would be eligible for a sign-on bonus advertised on the company's website and whether the company would consider a $2 increase in the hourly wage.

The representative said the bonus wasn't available but Boucher could be eligible for an increase in the hourly wage after her 90-day review. The documents say Boucher then accepted the job offer and gave notice of her resignation to her employer.

"Unlike most Respiratory Therapist positions, the CSS position would allow Ms. Boucher to work a regular weekday schedule, which would enable her to spend more time with her young family," the complaint says. "The job at CSS would also afford Ms. Boucher a substantially higher pay rate than the job she held at the time."

The next day, Boucher learned for the first time that she was required to attend a weeklong training in Connecticut before starting her job. At the time, she was breastfeeding her 10-month-old baby, who did not take a bottle. She asked the human resources representative about possible accommodations, but she also mentioned the possibility of her mother coming to the training with her to help with child care. The next day, the representative informed her by email that they decided to rescind the offer with no further explanation.

Attorneys Carol Garvan and Valerie Wicks are representing Boucher. They requested her personnel file from the company and discovered an internal email that is quoted in the complaint.

In the internal email, the company's director of operations wrote to the Indeed.com recruiter that Community Surgical Supply was withdrawing the job offer because "we see too many red flags." The director specifically cited that Boucher "called in to state that she could not travel out of state for training because she needed to care for her 10 month old child." The email also mentioned that she asked other questions, including about the bonus and the pay rate.

"The double standard here is unmistakable: men routinely ask questions about job offers with no penalty, but when Ms. Boucher politely asked about breastfeeding and pay, that was enough for CSS to revoke its job offer," Garvan said in a news release. "This unequal treatment was not only unfair and bad for CSS's customers who were denied a very capable respiratory therapist, but it was also plainly illegal."

Boucher filed a complaint to the Maine Human Rights Commission for sex discrimination, retaliation and interference with the right to breastfeed.

The facts in the investigator's report align with the statements in the lawsuit. Community Surgical Supply told the investigator that Boucher was unable to attend the out-of-state training, which was mandatory and essential to the position, and also mentioned her questions about the bonus and pay. The investigator's report included the company's explanation: "The event could not be moved or rescheduled, and it would not have been possible for the Complainant (Boucher) to attend via videoconference. In light of her questions, Respondent (the company) was worried Complainant would be unhappy with the company and decided to rescind her offer."

The investigator found that Community Surgical Supply did not prove that it did not discriminate against Boucher because she was a breastfeeding mother.

"It is not credible that Respondent has never had a job candidate ask questions about pay or hours after receiving, but prior to accepting, a job offer. ... Complainant accepted the job offer, which should have negated Manager and Director's concerns about hiring an unhappy employee," the investigator wrote. "Complainant has therefore also shown that but for her status as a breastfeeding mother, Respondent would not have rescinded the offer."

In November, the commissioners unanimously found reasonable grounds to believe that Boucher was discriminated and retaliated against. They found no grounds to believe the company interfered with her right to breastfeed because she never actually had the opportunity to breastfeed on the job.

Boucher then filed her complaint. Her attorneys said she returned to work at her previous employer and is still there.