Calgary GO PUBLIC

'I have to ask you to leave': Insurance adjuster tries to boot breastfeeding mom from meeting

Insurance company apologizes and promises to review policies after Go Public inquiries

October 29, 2018

Ashly Cosgrove is considering filing a human rights complaint after being told she couldn't breastfeed during a meeting with her insurance adjuster. (Rosa Marchitelli/CBC)
Read Comments

A woman says she was targeted by thieves and then humiliated when she turned to her insurance company for help. Criminals cleared out her family's storage locker and when she tried to make a claim, her insurance adjuster told her to get out of his office because she was breastfeeding her newborn.

Ashly Cosgrove says her one-month-old son was tucked under her headscarf while she was nursing. Her husband, Zahir Zuway, and one of their daughters — age five — was also in the room.

ADVERTISEMENT

"He told me I had to leave the room," Cosgrove said from her home in Calgary. "I objected. I was just really embarrassed."

Cosgrove says she was 'shocked' and 'confused' when the insurance adjuster told her she had to leave. (Rosa Marchitelli/CBC)

It's against human rights laws to deny someone a service based on the person's sex. Breastfeeding is understood to be part of that but is not specifically in the legislation.

According to Toronto lawyer Barbara Green, who specializes in human rights complaints, that leaves too much up to interpretation — including what a nursing mother's rights are versus the rights of those who object to breastfeeding in public.

Conversation caught on tape

Cosgrove openly recorded the meeting with her insurance adjuster intending to use it as a record of what was said about the claim. She later provided the recording to Go Public.

This is a professional environment and it feels like this is particularly unnecessary at this point in time. - Insurance adjuster to nursing mother

The adjuster can be heard returning to the office after getting paperwork and noticing Cosgrove was nursing her baby. At first, the new mom thought she was being kicked out for recording the meeting.

"At this point Ashly I do have to ask you to leave the room," the insurance adjuster can be heard saying, "because this is making me very uncomfortable. This is a professional environment and it feels like this is particularly unnecessary at this point in time."

Click to show more
New mom told to leave meeting due to her breastfeeding infant. (Recording has been edited to remove insurance adjuster's name.)  0:28

After some back and forth, the adjuster leaves the room to get his manager, who agrees breastfeeding should be done in another room. The couple is told the meeting will have to be rebooked, and the adjuster tells Cosgrove she should "find someone to tend to the kids if you'd like to be here."

An insurance adjuster at Alberta Motor Association told Ashly Cosgrove that her breastfeeding made him 'feel very uncomfortable.' Her husband, Zahir Zuway, and two young daughters were also in the room. (Rosa Marchitelli/CBC)

The dispute ends when Cosgrove says she will stop breastfeeding in order to finish the claim.

"I thought that was absurd.... I felt like I don't have control over my own life, over my son's life," Cosgrove told Go Public.

Insurance company apologizes

Cosgrove put her concerns in an email to the insurance adjuster and his manager. She didn't hear back until Go Public contacted the company with questions.

The Alberta Motor Association apologized to the couple after being contacted by Go Public, and says it will review its policies. (Colin Hall/CBC)

In a written statement to CBC News, the Alberta Motor Association says it has apologized to the couple "for the embarrassment and hurt the situation caused." It also says it's reviewing its education programs and policies.

"The situation was entirely unacceptable and not at all aligned with who we are, what we value and how we promise to treat our members," Misty Harris from the Alberta Motor Association wrote.

"We believe fundamentally in the importance of this issue and unequivocally support a woman's right to breastfeed at any time and at any place of her choosing," 

Protections lacking

Breastfeeding advocate Elisabeth Sterken says this is a clear case of discrimination because Cosgrove was denied service that would be available to other members of the public.

"What people should know is that they can't discriminate on the basis of sex, just like they can't discriminate on the basis of colour or race or religion or any other part of our humanity," says Sterken, who is the director of Canada Infant Feeding Action Coalition.

But academic Amar Khoday, who has written about and studied breastfeeding policies, isn't so sure. He says the laws need to be clearer for cases like this. While a few provinces do have breastfeeding discrimination in their policies, it's not specifically mentioned in any human rights laws. Instead it's assumed to be covered under sex discrimination.

Khoday says that needs to change.

Amar Khoday, who has written about and studied breastfeeding policies, says tougher laws are needed. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

"The usefulness of it is that mothers would know they are protected under the Human Rights Act," says Khoday, who is an associate law professor at the University of Manitoba. "It gives good guidance to employers and service providers that they too have certain obligations they have to meet."

Green says the laws and policies also need to a better job of specifying where a mother's right to breastfeed trumps any objections. She says Ontario policies, which were updated in 2014, are better than other provinces.

Lawyer Barbara Green says human rights commissions should provide more clarity on where women are allowed to breastfeed. (Robert Krbavac/CBC)

"In Ontario, they're quite broad. The protections set out where a woman is entitled to breastfeed in public, that she's entitled to breastfeed in restaurants, in malls, public transit," Green told Go Public from her office in Toronto.

"With respect to [some] other jurisdictions, the protections are looser and simply just state that a woman has a right to breastfeed in public and that others aren't entitled to interfere with those rights…. What is ambiguous here is this is a private office of what appears to be a public service provider." 

Whose rights prevail?

Green says she understands some people feel uncomfortable around nursing mothers and says in Cosgrove's case, the insurance adjuster could have left the room and allowed his client to finish before restarting the meeting.

As for the adjuster's rights, Green says they too depend on whether an office is a public or private area. If public, Cosgrove had the right to breastfeed. The adjuster could also have offered her another comfortable place to nurse her child, but she would be under no obligation to accept the offer. If the office is private, he had no obligations.

Cosgrove is planning on filing a human rights complaint to see if her case can help set a precedent for future cases.

She says while she appreciates the apology from the insurance company, it's disheartening nursing mothers still face discrimination. She believes something needs to be done about the mixed messages moms are getting.

"I thought we were past this," says​ Cosgrove. "Especially when you go to the hospital when you have a baby, the first thing everyone's approaching [you] about is you need to breastfeed. Breastfeeding is best for the baby. Breastfeeding on demand … but then you go out into the world, and all of a sudden, you're not allowed to breastfeed here, you can't breastfeed there.... It's hard."

With files from Ana Komnenic

Submit your story ideas

Go Public is an investigative news segment on CBC-TV, radio and the web.

We tell your stories and hold the powers that be accountable.

We want to hear from people across the country with stories you want to make public.

Submit your story ideas at Go Public.

Follow @CBCGoPublic on Twitter.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rosa Marchitelli
@cbcRosa

Rosa Marchitelli is a national award winner for her investigative work. As co-host of the CBC News segment Go Public, she has a reputation for asking tough questions and holding companies and individuals to account. Rosa's work is seen across CBC News platforms.

CBC's Journalistic Standards and Practices
Report Typo or Error