SCAO releases new policy to meet needs of nursing mothers and individuals with disabilities

WLAM is pleased to announce that on January 8, 2019, the State Court Administrative Office published a memo encouraging all courts to create and maintain an accommodation space so that nursing mothers and individuals with disabilities can meet their individual needs.

Generally speaking, public restrooms are the only places in the courthouse where nursing mothers and certain individuals with disabilities can address their biological or medical needs.  Even under the best of circumstances, this presents sanitation concerns and various challenges for the user.

“When a female lawyer notified WLAM about the lack of lactation space for nursing mothers at courthouses in Michigan, WLAM went into action to partner with others to create space and policies for courthouses throughout Michigan,” said WLAM Past President and member of WLAM’s Gender Equity Committee, Julie Gafkay.

First, WLAM partnered with Wayne County Circuit Court and Executive Court Administrator, Zenell Brown.  In January 2018, Wayne County became the first court in Michigan to create a model lactation space in its courthouse.

The same that week Wayne County established lactation rooms, Washtenaw County Trial Courts also added a Mother’s Room for court users who are breastfeeding or need to express milk.

Angela Walker, Chair of WLAM’s Gender and Equity Committee, said “We are excited to be making strides in improving access to the courts for nursing mothers. These collaborative efforts have led to increased awareness of the challenges faced by women attorneys who need break time and a private place to pump while involved in trials or other extended court proceedings.”

WLAM then partnered with the State Court Administrative Office and the Michigan Department of Civil Rights to create a guide for other courts to use to create and maintain its own lactation accommodation space.  The guide also contemplates that the accommodation space could be used by individuals with disabilities who have biological or medical needs.

“We realized along the way that the same type of accommodations that benefit nursing mothers also help provide equal access to the courts for individuals who need a private space to attend to medical needs,” said Walker.  She explained “That extends to jurors, litigants, and everyone else who comes into contact with our court system.”

The Gender and Equity Committee hopes these efforts will prompt courts across the state to review their policies and practices and implement changes where appropriate.

The guide, which is reproduced below, was published on January 8, 2019.  It should be noted that providing a space is not a legal requirement under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), but it is strongly encouraged.