Teacher forced to express breastmilk in toilets wins harassment case against school

Ms Mellor was a citizenship teacher at Mirfield Grammar School in West Yorkshire. After her return from maternity leave following the birth of her first child, she was provided with a private room in which she was permitted to breastfeed her baby, who was brought into school by her partner.

However, following her return to work in 2020 after the birth of her second child, no suitable room was made available for Ms Mellor to express breastmilk, despite Ms Mellor requesting on multiple occasions that a private room be made available.

As a result of the school’s failure to provide a suitable room, Ms Mellor felt “forced” to express breastmilk in her car and the “often dirty” toilets. As her car was cold and she was concerned about being seen by passers-by, she usually chose to use the toilets.

Expressing milk took Ms Mellor 20 minutes, and no time was set aside from her working day for this, so Ms Mellor had to use her 25-minute lunchbreak. This meant that she generally sat on the toilet floor so that she could eat her lunch at the same time as expressing, which she said she found “unhygienic” and “disgusting”.

Details of the claim and the decision

Ms Mellor brought a claim against the school for direct sex discrimination, indirect sex discrimination and harassment on the basis of sex. The tribunal dismissed the claims for direct and indirect sex discrimination.

However, the tribunal agreed with Ms Mellor that forcing her to express milk and eat her lunch in the toilets or in her car had the effect of creating a degrading or humiliating environment. As such, the tribunal found that she had been harassed on the basis of her sex and she is entitled to be compensated for this.

Lessons to be learnt for schools

This case should be taken as a warning to schools of the need to ensure they are giving careful consideration to the needs of women returning to work from maternity leave, and the consequences of failing to do so. Where new mothers are breastfeeding, schools should ensure they conduct a specific risk assessment that considers the relevant risks, and it is a legal requirement that breastfeeding mothers are provided with suitable facilities where they can rest.

The employee’s requirements should be discussed with them in good time before their return to work, so that arrangements can be put in place. Where necessary, employees should be given breaks to express milk, and this should be done in a private, clean and warm environment. Schools should also ensure the employee is provided with a clean fridge to store milk.

How Moore Barlow can help

If you would like further guidance on your school’s obligations towards new and expectant mothers at work, please contact any member of the Schools & Charities Team.