Brief Fact Summary. Dike sued the school board alleging that it unduly interfered with a constitutionally protected right by preventing her from breastfeeding at work. The district court dismissed the action
Synopsis of Rule of Law. Nurturing and rearing of children is included in the rights of privacy protected by the United States Constitution.
Facts. Janice Dike was employed by the school board as a kindergarten teacher. Dike gave birth to a child and opted to breastfeed at all feedings. This required her to feed once during the school day. She attempted to do so in the least disruptive way by having someone bring her child to school during her lunch hour at which point she would nurse the child in the privacy of a locked room. If the school asked her to perform duties during her lunch period she wound hand the child to her husband or babysitter. After three months the school board directed Duke to stop nursing at school, citing a rule prohibiting teachers from bringing their children to work. The rationale for the rule was to avoid possible disruptions and to avoid the possibility of having the child having an accident and subjecting the school board to litigation. Dike stopped nursing at school, and the child developed an allergic reaction to formula milk. Duke had to leave milk extracted through a breast pump fo
r the child’s day feeding. Dike asserts that this routine caused observable psychological changes in her child and affected her emotional well being. She requested permission to resume her earlier procedure or to nurse the child off campus in the parking lot. The school board denied this request based on a policy prohibiting teachers from leaving the premises during the day. The infant then began to refuse to nurse from a bottle, and Dike was compelled to take an unpaid leave of absence. She sued the board, alleging that it unduly interfered with a constitutionally protected right to nurture her child by breastfeeding. The district court dismissed the action, determining it was frivolous.
Issue. Did the district court err by finding a claim that the right to nurture a child by breastfeeding was not constitutionally protected?
Held. The district court erred because the right to nurture a child by breastfeeding is included in the spectrum of interests the Supreme Court has protected under the Constitution.
Rights of personal privacy or fundamental personal liberties such as marriage, contraception, and family relationships are constitutional protected from state interference. Nurturing and rearing children is included in this list, and breastfeeding is the most elemental form of parental care. Therefore it is a constitutionally protected right.
The school board may still prove that its regulations further sufficiently important state interests that are closely tailored to effectuate only those interests. Such interests would likely include the disruption of the educational process and avoiding potential liability.
Discussion. The Court found that breastfeeding was a fundamental personal liberty protected by the Constitution. Therefore, laws that abridge it are subject to close scrutiny. The Court did not determine if the school board’s reasons were closely tailored to promote a significant state interest because the district board dismissed the action.