Woman files complaint after being barred from breast-feeding

Thomas Warren, wtop.com

WASHINGTON – A woman has filed a complaint with the D.C. Office of Human Rights after a security guard allegedly barred her from breast-feeding while waiting for a Department of Motor Vehicles hearing.

Simone Manigo-Truell dos Santos says she was at the Henry Daly Building in Northwest on Nov. 30 for a traffic ticket hearing with her 4 1/2-month-old son, Samuel.

Dos Santos says her son was hungry, so she went into a corridor empty of chairs, sat down on the floor and began to breast-feed him.

“I put on a pre-fold cloth diaper over my breast to shield my breast, and I had on my blouse, and a leather jacket, and a puffy jacket on top of that, and I began to nurse,” dos Santos says.

Dos Santo says a security guard — whose last name she says is Fowler — told her she wasn’t allowed to sit on the floor. She stood up and leaned against the wall, bracing her leg on a stroller wheel for support.

I “kind of cradled my son in my arms, and then again unbuttoned my shirt, and again proceeded to go through the unwieldy process of putting him on my breast, and nurse him again,” dos Santos says.

Dos Santos says a second security guard — whose last name she says is Williams — then approached and told her she wasn’t allowed to breast-feed in a public corridor of a government building.

“And then she said it’s indecent exposure,” dos Santos says.

However, an amendment to the D.C. Human Rights Act of 1977 ensures a woman’s right to breast-feed her child in any public or private location where she has the right to be with her child. The amendment was authored by D.C. Councilmember Jim Graham and signed into law in 2007 by former Mayor Adrian Fenty.

Dos Santos says she was unaware of the law. But at the DMV, one of the security guards called a supervisor, and dos Santos called her lawyer. She has since filed a complaint with the city’s human rights office, and an agency spokesperson says her complaint should currently be in the review stage.

Graham, the councilmember representing Ward 1, says D.C. Protective Services — the agency for which the security guards work — also has started its own investigation. He says the incident shows a lack of knowledge about the law.

“There should be more training. I want to make sure more people know the law,” Graham says.

Dos Santos says she would like an apology from the security guards. She says she also would like to see increased training for the guards.

“Trained not only on what the law is, but on being sensitive to women,” dos Santos says. “You can know what the law is, but if you look at a woman cross-eyed when she’s nursing her child, that can be uncomfortable even though no words are said.”

The ordeal now has made her leery about breast-feeding in public.

“It’s not longer an instinctive thing: ‘My child is hungry let me nurse him,'” she says. “It’s now a pause, something clicks in my head: ‘Well, maybe I shouldn’t. Is there any way I cannot nurse him?'”

Still, lost in the circumstances surrounding the alleged violation of city law is someone Dos Santos says tried to come to her aid: a D.C. police officer.

“Here you have a Washington, D.C. police officer who often get a bad rap, but who recognized that what was happening wasn’t right,” she says. “So, I appreciated that support in that moment.”

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(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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