NH Supreme Court divided on woman’s claims she was fired over breastfeeding

Muri Assuncao, New York Daily News
·2 min read

The case of a New Hampshire woman who claims she was fired from her job over breastfeeding remains dismissed, following a split decision Friday by the state’s Supreme Court.

For years, Kate Frederick has been challenging her termination by the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services.

She alleges that the reason for her 2012 firing was hostility over a request for breastfeeding accommodations, according to New Hampshire Public Radio.

Friday’s 2-2 decision means that a lower court’s decision to dismiss the case stands, The Associated Press reported.

“I wasn’t expecting a tie,” Frederick told the AP. “It’s telling women and families, ‘New Hampshire, we don’t even acknowledge you, we don’t even care about your issues, we’re not going to decide this.’”

The New Hampshire Supreme Court is composed of the chief justice and four associate justices. However when Frederick’s case was heard in January 2020 the court lacked a fifth member, after its chief justice stepped down in August 2019.

Frederick, who now lives in Strafford, Vermont, first filed a lawsuit against the department in 2014 in federal court.

After a number of appeals, the case made its way to the state’s Supreme Court.

Last year a lawyer for Frederick argued before the state Supreme Court that she’d been wrongfully terminated.

In its Friday ruling, the Supreme Court wrote that, “In this case, the court is evenly divided.”

“Two members of the court agree that the plaintiff’s claim should be dismissed; two members of the court would reverse the trial court’s dismissal and remand for further proceedings.”

That means that “the judgment of the court below therefore stands in full force,” the decision said.

“No avenue exists for further appeal,” Frederick’s lawyer, Benjamin King, said in a statement.

“Disappointingly, a jury will never determine whether the State Department of Health and Human Services acted illegally when it fired Kate for insisting on the right to breastfeed her infant during the workday, because her infant depended on breastfeeding for his nutrition,” he added.

“My lawsuit ... was decided this morning in the NH Supreme Court, by a panel of 4 Judges,” Frederick wrote Friday on Facebook.

“Because it was just a tie, I lost the right to sue and have a jury decide if I was illegally discriminated against. For those of you who want an answer — I can give you one. Yes, it was illegal. I did nothing wrong by having a baby that needed to be fed during work hours. There are no further appeal rights available,” she added.

Frederick, who’s currently a student at the Vermont Law School, is the founder of the New Hampshire Breastfeeding Rights Coalition, a group whose mission is to “advocate for pregnancy and breastfeeding rights and accommodations in public places and the workplace.”