Like most people, Amanda Chandler was not excited to be summoned for jury duty.
Chandler, a 40-year-old stay-at-home mom to daughter Elliott, 2, is breastfeeding and the primary caregiver of her child. She was told those are not valid reasons for exemption, but that Hennepin County in Minnesota would reimburse her $40 a day for non-licensed childcare and accommodate her pumping needs while she served.
"The clerk I spoke with was very proud and excited to tell me about a new 'quiet room' which had recently been designed with nursing mothers and those wishing for a place to pray in mind," Chandler told TODAY Parents. "I was also assured that if I was placed on a panel, the clerks and judge would accommodate my pumping schedule."
Chandler reported to the Hennepin County Government Center on Monday, March 13 with breast pump in hand. The clerk who performed her orientation told the jurors about the available "quiet room," but Chandler happened to be in a group of jurors that included two more breastfeeding mothers, and the quiet room was designed for individual use.
"Knowing the importance of pumping on schedule and not having any idea when our names might be called to serve on a jury panel, I asked the other women what they thought of sharing the room and pumping together instead of taking turns," said Chandler. "We all quickly agreed that it was better for everyone if we sacrificed our privacy and pumped together instead of waiting up to an hour while we each took individual turns."
"All in all, we made the best of things and it was a good day," she said.
That was not the case on her second day at the courthouse, however. That morning, through a series of delays and apparent miscommunications between Chandler, the clerks, and the judge after she was placed on a jury panel, Chandler was kept from pumping for an entire morning despite her repeated requests and attempts to advocate for herself. Clerks promised she would be able to pump on schedule that afternoon.
But when she asked to pump later that day, the clerk led Chandler to a private unisex bathroom, not the quiet room. "She apologized because it wasn't the nicest, but told me that a female coworker used it to pump regularly, and that is why they were offering it to me," said Chandler.
"I was thankful for the chance to pump, but really could not believe that this bathroom was the best option for me," she said. "Was there really not an empty office or conference room anywhere?"
Chandler took a picture of the set up, noting the nearby urinal. She then attempted to pump, but she was so upset and anxious from the stress of the day that she couldn't get her milk to let down. Chandler packed up her equipment and found the clerk, who apologized again.
"I left the Government Center that afternoon upset and anxious," said Chandler. When she returned home, she posted about her experience on Facebook.
"Terrible experience at jury duty today," Chandler wrote in the post, which has since been shared almost 1,500 times on Facebook. "As a nursing mother, I was completely disappointed with the lack of regard and dismissal I felt when trying to pump (express breastmilk) on a schedule today."
The response from other mothers was almost immediate, said Chandler. "They were outraged and they wanted to share this story," she said. Chandler also emailed the judge and expressed her disappointment in her experience.
That did not go over well with the judge, who summoned Chandler to her courtroom the next day, where, according to Chandler, she acknowledged Chandler's complaint, asserted that she felt they had met Chandler's needs and would do even more that day, and chastised Chandler for her post on social media before dismissing her from the jury panel.
In response to Chandler's complaints, Hennepin County told NBC affiliate KARE 11, "District Court has a quiet room on the 24th floor near our jury assembly room that was designed with nursing mothers in mind, which features a locking door for privacy, a sink and a chair. Through a miscommunication, which we regret, a jury panelist was not originally advised of the availability of this room. District Court strives to respect the physical and medical needs of all its jurors."
Chandler has since decided to file a formal complaint and is currently awaiting a response from the Hennepin County Court Administrator.
"I appreciate the 'quiet room' available to nursing mothers, but while it is a step in the right direction of supporting nursing mothers, it is not enough," said Chandler.