MEDIA ADVISORY: Public Hearing Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development Pregnant Workers Fairness Act 

The pregnancy penalty must end in Massachusetts

Danielle was not allowed to sit at all during her shift as an assistant manager at a gas station in Westfield. Aliza couldn’t get a half-hour lunch break in her work as a nurse practitioner in Cambridge. Sandy was forced to work with no restroom break for eight hours at a mall store in Holyoke. Alejandra faced the choice of losing her physically demanding  job at a Central Massachusetts laundry or increasing her hours from 40 to 50 when she was three months pregnant. Liz was ordered to bring food to the North Shore hospital room of a patient contagious with shingles, despite the sign on the door explicitly warning pregnant women not to enter.

Women from all over the state have stories like these about working while pregnant. Some lost their jobs. Some were forced to make the untenable choice between an income and a healthy pregnancy. Some lost their paychecks when they needed them the most. Some wound up on public assistance. Some stayed on the job and suffered the consequences. One lost her baby. All for the lack of accommodations routinely granted to other classes of workers.

Many women fear talking about workplace pregnancy discrimination will damage their employment prospects; but, on Tuesday at the State House, women will tell their intimate stories and speak out in favor of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. The proposed legislation would ensure that employers offer reasonable workplace accommodations to pregnant employees.

Adding a significant endorsement, the largest private employer in Western Massachusetts will submit testimony strongly supporting the Act. Baystate Health calls the PWFA “without question, a common-sense law that will support the health and well-being of our families today and for generations to come.” With more than 12,000 employees, Baystate is a workforce leader and a premiere provider of women’s health services.

A Fair Chance and Fair Pay
Protection from pregnancy discrimination and equal pay in the workplace are two foundations of achieving economic justice for women. The coalition supporting the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act will join the Equal Pay Coalition to advocate for leveling the playing field for women when the Labor and Workforce Development Committee hears these bills related to workplace discrimination and safety.

“Women have been fighting for years to achieve equal treatment in the workplace and are still fighting for that goal,” says PWFA coalition leader Liz Friedman, Program Director of MotherWoman. “Women must have not only a fair wage, but also a fair chance.”

“The goal of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is to make it possible for pregnant women to work as long as they choose. The PWFA would ensure that women, especially the low-income and hourly-wage workers most likely to suffer pregnancy discrimination, are not facing economic insecurity simply because they are pregnant,” says Denise Hurst, chairperson of MotherWoman’s Advocacy Committee.

In addition to the mothers sharing their personal stories, those offering testimony to the legislative committee on Tuesday include: MotherWoman’s Friedman, Rebecca Pontikes for the Massachusetts Employment Lawyers Assoc.; Kimberly Dougherty, president of the Massachusetts Women’s Bar Association; Chelsea Sedani, director of advocacy for the Crittendon Women’s Union in Boston; Dean Cycon, owner of Dean’s Beans coffee company in Athol; Michael Falcone for the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts; Dr. James Wang, spokesperson for the American Congress of Gynecologists and Obstetricians/Massachusetts and medical director of Baystate Health’s Wesson Women’s Clinic; and Tolle Graham representing the Massachusetts Coalition of Occupational Health and Safety.

Pregnancy Discrimination in the Spotlight
Pregnancy discrimination in the workplace has received attention recently in the New York Times and the Huffington Post, sparked by an article in the “American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology” detailing how physicians’ requests that employers accommodate pregnant women can backfire. “We can do harm if we are not careful when writing these notes for patients,” Dr. Rebecca Jackson, the lead author and the chief of obstetrics and gynecology at San Francisco General Hospital, told the Times.

“As obstetricians, we want the best health for our pregnant mothers,” says Dr. Jacqueline Kates, who practices obstetrics in Springfield and Westfield. “Mothers ask us to write letters to employers that outline how their places of employment can best support their health. When we do, we are in the precarious position of writing the notorious ‘fire me’ letter that an employer can interpret to mean that the pregnant woman can no longer meet the requirements of her job.”

The bottom line is that the complex, patchwork body of existing federal and state laws that may apply to accommodating pregnancy in the workplace has left women with gaps in the safety net. “We, as physicians, need the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act to clarify the protections of pregnant workers for employers so that we can do what we do best – advise patients how to best care for themselves while off or on the job,” says Kates.

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (H 1769) would prohibit an employer to deny reasonable accommodations of a job applicant or employee related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related conditions if the employee or applicant so requests, unless the employer can demonstrate that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship. Reasonable accommodations include, but are not be limited to:

• more frequent or longer breaks
• seating
• acquisition or modification of equipment
• assistance with manual labor
• light duty
• modified work schedules
• job restructuring
• temporary transfer to a less strenuous or hazardous position
• break time and private non-bathroom space for expressing breast milk

The Act would also require that employers inform all employees and applicants of the availability of accommodations. It would also prohibit discrimination in hiring or promotion based on pregnancy as well as retaliation against employees seeking reasonable accommodations for pregnancy.
The bill is sponsored by Rep. Ellen Story (D-Amherst), Sen. Joan Lovely (D-Salem) and Rep. Dave Rogers (D-Cambridge). There are 60 co-sponsors.

Interviews with key sources are available before, day-of and after the hearing

Linda Matys O’Connell
Cell: 610-295-3125
O’C2 Communications:

Shelly Smith, Program Assistant at MotherWoman Advocates to Reverse Breastfeeding Policy at Play Place in South Hadley

Moms 'nurse in' at Play Date Place where apologetic owner Darlene Sattler welcomes customers to breastfeed

By: Anne-Gerard Flynn


SOUTH HADLEY — Moms with babies and toddlers are not your stereotypical protesters. However, a number of them circulated throughout the Play Date Place Friday afternoon, quietly stopping to sit, as needed, to nurse their young ones.

Their presence was more an act of solidarity. It was undertaken in support of a woman's right to nurse in public spaces, after Play Date Place owner Darlene Sattler posted a Facebook notice earlier in the day about breastfeeding at her play venue for children six and under.

Sattler later reversed the policy that initially stated: "For the comfort and consideration of all our guests, uncovered breastfeeding will not be allowed in the play area."

Sattler said she was uneducated about the state law at the time she posted the policy, which she said was in response to "complaints from quite a few parents" not wanting to explain breastfeeding to their young children after "someone dropped their shirt completely."

Massachusetts is one of forty-six states that have laws that specifically allow women to breastfeed in any public or private location. It is also among the 29 states that exempt breastfeeding from public indecency laws. Massachusetts law on the subject of breastfeeding reads, in part: "A mother may breastfeed her child in any public place or establishment or place which is open to and accepts or solicits the patronage of the general public and where the mother and her child may otherwise lawfully be present."

"I am now educated to the law that I was wrong in doing it and I apologize," said Sattler, a mother of four and grandmother of two. "I welcome customers to breastfeed, as they have done, for the last four months."

Marissa Potter, a 33-year-old child birth educator from Shelburne Falls, encouraged her Facebook network to engage in the "nurse in" at Play Date Place after she read Sattler's postings. She estimated some 26 families with 11 babies would participate.

"This is more about public education and the need to foster a culture that supports women," said Potter, who nursed her own two children over a period of five years. "The law protects breastfeeding in public in Massachusetts."

She added that "not all babies are willing to be covered" when breastfeeding. She also said that feeding in public has "nothing to do with a woman exposing her body."

"No woman wants to expose herself in public, and the amount of breast exposed is far less than shown by someone walking down a street in normal fashion," Potter said. "Breastfeeding is healthy for moms, and healthy for babies. It is very hard physically, and very demanding and the more support women have the better."

Potter's words were echoed by the nursing moms who paid the admission fee of either $6 or $8, depending on the age of their child, to enter the venue.

The nurse-in moms who sat in a comfortable play area behind the the entrance counter watched their children explore areas set up as buildings in a town, and quietly supported each other. Other customers voiced their support.

"I am happy to be here," said West Springfield resident Erica Batchelder, as she played with eight-month old daughter Juliet whom she nursed for as long as she was able after birth. Her five-year-old son was busy exploring another area.

"I see all these mothers who just want to feed their babies," she continued. "I breast fed for three months. I am completely supportive of mothers who want to breastfeed. It is their choice and one they should not be ashamed of. I wish I could whip out a boob in support."

Batchelder added that "no matter where kids are, they get hungry."

"You see all these half naked celebrities, like Kim Kardashian with her butt, all over the place. Why can't someone feed their child in a public place?"

Twenty-nine-year-old nursing mom Sarah Quarles, of Springfield, brought her two children.

"A lot of people think that their discomfort should trump a mother's right to breastfeed," Quarles said as she finished nursing. "If someone is uncomfortable, they should just look away."

Quarles added that she felt women of her generation are increasingly aware of the need for mothers to breastfeed both in public and private.

"I mentioned this issue on Facebook and many of my friends, who are not mothers, said, 'This is not right. You should be able to breastfeed."

Jen Gallagher, a 33-year-old Springfield resident, sat nearby nursing her 15-month-old daughter Evie.

"The law in Massachusetts is a great step toward protecting women if they want to breastfeed in public, whether or not they cover the baby," Gallagher said. "Breastfeeding needs to be normalized. You would not ask someone feeding a baby with formula to move."

Gallagher added that she was "certainly not out to expose myself."

"Look at the Sports Illustrated Swim Suit issue that is everywhere and much more revealing. You could see the pubic bone on the last cover," Gallagher said. "You can barely see the breast bone with nursing, and maybe a nipple, but you have to be staring."

Twenty-eight year-old Sabrina Wierzchowski attended with her two children. A nursing mom, the Springfield resident is also a breastfeeding counselor who sees the most successful nursing moms having the support of "their partner and family." She produced enough milk with her first child to help a woman, who was unable to do so because of surgery, feed her child with breast milk for a year.

"It is shaming women from breastfeeding their children, and you should never shame anyone on how they choose to feed their child," Wierzchowski said of any undertaking to restrict public or private nursing.

She said such restrictions, like the one that was rescinded at Play Date Place, can discourage mothers from breastfeeding.

"They will start using a bottle of formula or a bottle of breast milk when nursing in public," Wierzchowski said. "And hearing something like this does not help."

Wierzchowski said she had "nipple pain, and all the bumps in the beginning" with breastfeeding, but that she persevered because "breastfeeding is better for the baby, and better for me."

"We need to stop shaming each other, and start embracing each other as mothers no matter how someone chooses to feed their baby," Wierzchowski said.

Published on Mass Appeal, Feburary 20, 2015
By Anne-Gerard Flynn 




Program Director, Liz Friedman featured on Mass Appeal!


Watch Program Director, Liz Friedman interview with Mass Appeal where she talks about the myths of motherhood, postpartum depression, and MotherWoman's mission to support every mother.

Published on Mass Appeal, December 9, 2014
By Michelle Misiaszek

Psychology Today Blogger Mentions MotherWoman!

Check out Claudia Gold’s blog post, "Is Postpartum Depression a Misnomer?", which highlights the importance of supporting and providing care to a new mother.



MotherWoman in Hadley hires Shannon Koehn as new executive director

Originally posted Thursday, Sep 19, 2013 on

Shannon M. Koehn, recently named to head MotherWoman Inc., said in statement that as mother of a 13-year-old daughter, she relates to its mission and work in supporting other women.

“When I recall the challenges life has afforded me, I am always reminded of the victories because of this support,” Koehn said. “For this very reason, I look forward to fostering support for others through the advancement of MotherWoman’s continued important work.”

Koehn, who earned a business degree from Medaille College, most recently was associate director of Housing Opportunities Made Equal Inc. in Buffalo, N.Y., where she built partnerships at the local, state, and federal level and oversaw a $3.1 million capital campaign. She has also taught business and management courses as an adjunct faculty member at Bryant & Stratton College, which has campuses in New York.

Last year, MotherWoman, which was established in 1999, received the Nonprofit Excellence in Advocacy Award from the Massachusetts Nonprofit Network.

The organization was selected for its support of policies to address the risk of perinatal emotional complications for mothers and for promoting, with the western Massachusetts political leadership, the adoption of earned sick time legislation.

MotherWoman’s activities also include training community leaders and professionals who direct groups empowering mothers and their partners; training medical, mental health and social service professionals about the need for integrated support for maternal emotional health; and working with partner organizations to educate parents and caregivers on policies that impact families.

Joanne Sunshower, president of MotherWoman, said in a statement that Koehn is a gifted and engaging leader.

“Her experience brings a new level of impetus for expanding our programs across the state, and attracting support for policies that enable families to thrive, such as earned paid sick time and paid parental leave,” Sunshower said.

Koehn succeeds Beth Spong, who is returning to her professional practice as a partner with Rainmaker Consulting Inc. in Holyoke.