National retailer America's Best Contacts & Eyeglasses must pay a former employee of its Burlington location $30,500 as part of a settlement of allegations of pregnancy-related workplace discrimination.

The retailer also is forced to overhaul training and reporting related to anti-discrimination.

According to the Office of the Attorney General, the complainant was treated differently by America's Best when she returned from her maternity leave in March 2019. Her hours were cut from full-time to part-time — she was advised just days prior to her return — and that eliminated her eligibility for employer-provided healthcare.

The complainant added that she was forced to express breast milk in an oft-accessed utility room, which didn't have a lock and was fully of supply boxes. While expressing breast milk, she said, she was forced to lean against the door in an attempt to ensure privacy, but was still interrupted by workers who needed to obtain supplies.

Under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, an employer must grant reasonable accommodations for an employee who is breastfeeding. A busy supply closet doesn't count, officials noted.

"This case should send a clear message to employers throughout New Jersey: We will not tolerate discrimination against workers who are pregnant or breastfeeding," said Acting Attorney General Matthew Platkin. "Companies, managers, and supervisory personnel need to understand that they have a legal responsibility to protect the rights of those workers."

The former employee filed her complaint with the Division on Civil Rights in March 2019. She had started with America's Best as a full-time sales associate in May 2018, and took her maternity leave on November 19 of that year.

Time sheets obtained by DCR showed that the complainant worked an average of 28 hours weekly after returning to work, compared to 34 hours prior to her maternity leave.

According to DCR, America's Best eventually installed a lock on the utility room where the ex-employee was forced to express breast milk, nearly three months after her return to work from pregnancy leave.

America's Best has 24 retail locations in New Jersey and 700 nationally.

In addition to monetary payments, America's Best must create and execute a training module on the company's anti-discrimination policy; conduct separate training for managers and supervisors in New Jersey; and provide DCR with reports cataloguing all pregnancy-related accommodation requests and complaints during the next three years.

Dino Flammia is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com

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