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