Barnes & Noble booted Mom for Breast-Feeding
When an assistant manager at a Nanuet bookstore told Shereen Matera that she either had to cover up or leave if she wanted to keep breast-feeding her 5-month-old son, the 22-year-old mom didn't just get mad.
She got even – and then some.
What happened next led state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman to announce a settlement Wednesday with Barnes & Noble that requires the bookstore to train its workers in the state's 20-year-old breast-feeding law allowing mothers to nurse in public.
The nationwide chain, which has 42 stores in New York, including West Nyack, White Plains, Yonkers and Mohegan Lake, also is donating $10,000 to a breastfeeding support program run by the Rockland Department of Health.
"There is still a lot of education and promotion that has to be done to change the cultural norm so that people know this is a natural way to feed a child and women should be comfortable doing it," said Laurie Messinger, coordinator of Rockland's breastfeeding program.
Matera said she was well aware of her legal rights to feed her son in public when an assistant manager approached her while she browsed children's books. The manager, she said, told her store policy said otherwise.
When she got home to Oakland, N.J., she shared her experience with a Facebook group, Badass Breastfeeders of New Jersey, which includes women from Rockland.
"I was so outraged and they were too," Matera recalled Wednesday. "We're a close-knit group and we love what we do for our children. If you mess with one of us, you mess with all of us."
A day or two after the March 16 incident, Matera and her son, Jason, returned to the store with about 15 members of the group, who proceeded to breast-feed their babies under what she said was the disapproving glare of a different manager.
"If she had just said 'I'm sorry,' that would have been the end of it," Matera said.
Barnes & Noble spokeswoman Mary Ellen Keating said in a statement Wednesday that the company is "committed to ensuring our stores continue to be a welcoming environment for breastfeeding mothers."
But Matera said she had been given the run-around when she called the company's corporate office to complain.
Under the agreement with the company, Barnes & Noble will:
• strengthen its customer complaint resolution procedures from breast-feeding mothers.
• train all New York store employees on its breast-feeding policy, which prohibits employees from interfering with a mother's right to breast-feed.
• display the international symbol for breast-feeding at the entrances to its stores.
Matera said she hopes other women will become more assertive about their right to breast-feed after learning of her experience.
"I'm glad this happened to me and not another mom who didn't know her rights," she said. "One thing like this could have ended that mom's breastfeeding."
Hudson Valley Hospital Center will participate in "The Big Latch On," a world-wide event at 10:30 a.m. August 1 that links moms across the globe in simultaneous breast-feeding event. Participation is recorded in an attempt to break the world record. To register, click here.