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Former resident physician accuses Hilo Medical Center of breastfeeding discrimination

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Hilo Medical Center
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Hilo Medical Center

A former resident physician at a Hawaiʻi Island hospital is suing the institution for pregnancy-related workplace discrimination.

Adrianne Haack had a 4-month-old baby when she was hired as a resident physician at the Hilo Medical Center.

Haack’s typical schedule as a resident physician required her to work over 80 hours a week. She needed to take frequent lactation breaks at work to feed her newborn.

"I don’t know how I could have breastfed my child without taking a lactation break at work because of the amount of hours I worked there," Haack said.

She said she received comments from her coworkers and supervisors about her lactation schedule. Some suggested she get a pumping bra. Some said breastfeeding after 6 months wasn’t necessary.

Haack was given 30-minute lactation breaks, but she struggled to set up her equipment, pump and clean in time.

"I had supervisors who placed additional work on me when I would come back from a lactation break that other employees didn’t have placed on them," she told HPR.

Hawaiʻi law requires employers to provide a private location to lactate for one year after a child’s birth.

Haack became pregnant with her second child during her residency — extending her need to lactate. Haack told HPR, "It’s not an employer’s decision to tell me I can’t get pregnant or I can’t go lactate."

The federal Civil Rights Act prohibits firing someone who is lactating.

But Haack expressed she felt she was treated differently because of her need to lactate in the workplace.

Supervisors cited her complaint as threatening and inappropriate. Haack was terminated a little over a year into her residency program.

Termination from a residency program hinders the physician's ability to join a new program to finish their training.

"I noticed when I was working there the physicians were resigning at pretty rapid rates compared to other hospitals that I’ve been at. I’ve seen that they’re part of the problem for why the retention isn’t happening in the community," Haack stated.

Hilo Medical Center has not responded to HPR for comment.

Updated: October 11, 2022 at 3:20 PM HST
Hilo Medical Center responded to HPR on Oct. 11, saying, "Hilo Medical Center does not comment on matters under litigation."
Zoe Dym is a news producer at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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