Friday, April 27, 2012

Musing on Unlawful Removal From Businesses

The following is expanded from journal posts made over the course of the two days following the incident.

On Sunday, January 13, 2008 at around 4:45 pm, my rights as a breastfeeding mother were violated. I was shopping at Hot Topic with my Christmas money and had collected a few items to buy (including a couple of kick ass onesies). Lilly was toddling around and slipped. She banged her head on a shelf and started crying. I tried to calm her down, but she was flipping out and wouldn't sit back in the stroller, so I sat down amidst the clearance shirts I was already looking at, out of the way of other customers, and started nursing her while continuing to shop.

I had her head basically in the shirts and my shirt was covering every bit of my breast as well as a bit of her face. I was the picture of 'discreet,' sans a nursing cover (which I had tried in the past and ended up flashing an entire store... I could not nurse in one without flashing, so I stopped trying to use them, as I found myself to be more discreet simply using the bottom of my shirt).

An employee walked by and smiled at me and said hello. My husband was looking through the band shirts for me while I continued to browse the clearance. A minute later, the same employee came back and informed me that I couldn't nurse in the store. I calmly explained that that wasn't true and that the law states that anywhere that I am allowed, my baby can eat.

"Well, we've already had a customer complain," she insisted. We were three customers!

"That doesn't change the law," I told her and she left to talk to her manager. Another minute or so passed and then the manager (turns out she was only an assistant manager, but she was the authority in the shop that day) came over to squat next to me on the floor.

"You can't expose yourself in public," she began and I looked down. All you could see was my baby's hair and my shirt. Not even a millimeter of breast was 'exposed.' My gaze drifted over to the pregnant teenager across the aisle, whose breasts were on full display. "Hot Topic is a private store--"

"There is no such thing," I replied, adrenaline flooding my system from the emotions burning inside me. She thought her store was above the law?

"You can't just squat down and breastfeed," she snarled. I was sitting in the exact same position I had been to reach the bottom shelf of shirts, which is only an inch or less off the floor, with some spilled over from previous searching customers. She continued berating and lecturing me every time I tried to quote the law and eventually she dropped the word 'indecent' and we degraded into a full-out argument. I was furious, embarrassed, feeling harassed and my mind went to the teen, worried that this was her first nursing in public experience and it would give her an incorrect view of her rights as a mother. The manager refused to give me her name, though I asked repeatedly.

Finally, Lilly stopped nursing and started staring at the woman yelling at me. She didn't notice and was telling me to leave, over and over. I just gave up on her and asked if I could buy my merchandise on my way out. She told me that I could and I got into line, but it wasn't over for her. She broke my last bit of control when she sneered that I was wrong and couldn't go around exposing myself in public. Previously, she had been speaking softly and insisting she wanted this to be a 'private matter.' This comment was loud enough for the people around to hear.

I turned around and yelled at her that my rights were being violated, that the law was on my side, etc. Somehow, I had managed to avoid calling her 'ignorant,' 'stupid,' and 'prudish' (words popping into my head) although my mouth was running beyond my control, I was so angry. She called mall security and told me I could no longer purchase my things and that I had to leave. I threw my clothes back at a shelf and accidentally hit her with the onesie. Oops (really--I didn't want assault charges, I just wanted out of there at that point and didn't want them to think I was trying to shoplift).

She then started saying "You need to leave, now!" over and over, while I was insisting that I was trying, but she backed me into the line of customers and rammed my stroller into a nearby customer, at which point, she seemed to notice that she was preventing me from leaving. So, she announced "Everyone move, she's leaving!"

An old woman was smirking at me and my husband told me that he was pretty certain she was the one who had made the complaint. It was bad timing, as then I turned to her and called her a fucking bitch. She stopped smirking. We left and mall security never showed up, so I bought a calendar on the way out that I'd been eying.

I went home and journaled about it on Cafemom. Information flooded in from supportive moms who were outraged and cries for a nurse-in began. An ex-manager for another Hot Topic quickly contacted the company and provided information for me (and others) to do the same. Before I knew it, the Vice President of Hot Topic, Ed Gusman, had joined Cafemom for the express purpose of trying to contact me (I was busy taking care of my baby, unaware of the storm I had set in motion with my journal).

My husband was shocked and angered by the whole thing and he contacted Mr. Gusman on my behalf. I sent Mr. Gusman an e-mail with the details of the incident and this is an excerpt (I shared the letter in its entirety in another journal post):

"I felt humiliated, angry and discriminated against. These are not feelings I ever expected to be subjected to in Hot Topic. In fact, they were very much against what I have always believed Hot Topic stands for. I am hurt and cannot believe that I was put through this, simply for trying to exercise my legal right to nourish and comfort my little girl."

I pointed out that had I been offered the changing room to nurse in, while it still would have been a violation of my rights, I would have used it without confrontation. The problem was that I was told to leave just because I was nursing. I then went to include the law for my state in my journal:

Breast-feeding in public permitted.
191.918. Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, a mother may, with as much discretion as possible, breast-feed her child in any public or private location where the mother is otherwise authorized to be.
(L. 1999 S.B. 8 & 173 § 6)

I received an e-mail reply almost immediately.

Dear [my name here],
Thank you very much for bringing this to my attention!
I am very concerned about the situation you’ve described and am investigating the matter now. 

I would very much appreciate the opportunity to learn more about your experience. 

My husband called the number Mr. Gusman attached to the message and before 24 hours had elapsed from the time of the offense, everything had been resolved. Ed asked to talk to me and apologized. Before he was removed from Cafemom for being a man, he read up on breastfeeding and was wowed by the amount of information available.

I was entirely impressed that he chose to educate himself not only on the laws, but the reasons women choose to nurse and the importance of breastfeeding. He asked me what he could do to make it up to me and I asked that sensitivity training be provided for all management of Hot Topic stores as well as education on the laws, to prevent this from happening to anyone else. He readily agreed.

He was clearly baffled that that was all I wanted and when I didn't ask for anything else, he offered to send me a gift card to purchase the items I had been forced to abandon. I let him know that while that wasn't necessary (as all I wanted was for this not to happen again), I appreciated the gesture and told him what I had been planning to purchase (he did send the gift card).

The response I received was more than I ever could have hoped for. Hot Topic's actions should be a model for any store in this situation. Not only did they avoid a scene (and becoming a hot topic they never intended!) but they left me a satisfied, returning customer. The assistant manager who treated me so poorly was subject to disciplinary action and the head manager sent me a written apology and invitation to the store (I did not go the day he asked, not wanting to be a spectacle).

I did buy the items that had been in my 'cart' -- ironically, one of the shirts was this one (which showed far more of my breasts than I did while nursing):

Unfortunately, upon my return, the employees did whisper about me and watch me like some negative celebrity, but that only happened the first time I returned. The incident was forgotten after a while and I still shop there (I don't recall if I've nursed there since the incident--I only nurse in public when my baby clearly needs to).

This incident was traumatic for me and my heart goes out to every mother person who has been refused service or kicked out of a place for nursing any reason when they were only trying to patronize the establishment. Discrimination is a cruel thing and needs to end.


  1. What a horrific situation; I am sitting here just fuming on your behalf. I think you were much more calm than I would have been (there would have been a lot of angry tears of frustration for sure), and it's so good to hear that it's been resolved so well!

    Honestly, even as a non-mother, I find it hard to understand how people can be so small minded -- the simple fact that you have a mother yourself should be enough to make you more than accepting of someone else feeding their child. *shakes head* It's situations like these that really display the rampant sex-negativity and woman shaming that pervades our culture, and it's infuriating.

    Thanks for sharing this story.

  2. Wow, what a horrific experience you went through. :( I can't believe how rude that assistant manager was to you. I'm so glad the people actually in charge took the action they did to remedy the situation. I'm so impressed with you for standing up for yourself, your little one, and your rights the way you did!

  3. I'm so sorry you went through this experience, and so proud to be your mom. :-)


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