Calling on the RI Bar to Accommodate Breastfeeding Women
Taking the bar examination in Rhode Island this February? If you are a lactating woman, don’t expect to receive any special treatment from the RI Bar. As the results of a survey (https://www.aclu.org/map/breastfeeding-policies-during-bar-exam-state) conducted by the ACLU and Law Students for Reproductive Justice, Rhode Island rates a D- for it efforts in accommodating women who are breastfeeding during the time that the bar exam is offered.
The ACLU notes that the “report card findings highlight the widespread barriers that women face in pursuit of their legal careers. State boards must acknowledge that their outdated policies contribute to this problem and must take an active role in eliminating these barriers. Women should not be forced to make a decision between their families and their careers.”
The League of Women Voters of Rhode Island, ACLU of Rhode Island, Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, Women’s Fund of Rhode Island, Rhode Island NOW, and Rhode Island Women’s Bar Association sent a letter to David Wollin, Chair of the Rhode Island Board of Bar Examiners, on November 16, noting that every other New England state does make appropriate accommodations, and “we strongly believe there is no reason for this to be delayed any longer. We therefore request the Board to take up this matter expeditiously and adopt a policy designed to meaningfully accommodate breastfeeding applicants in time for the next Bar exam.”
The full text of the letter sent to David Wollin of the RI Board of Bar Examiners appears below.
Letter to David A. Wollin
November 16, 2015
BY EMAIL AND MAIL
David A. Wollin, Esquire, Chair
Rhode Island Board of Bar Examiners
Licht Judicial Complex
250 Benefit St. Providence, RI 02903
Dear Chair Wollin:
We write as a follow-up to our letters dated July 20, August 4, and October 1, 2015, and your latest letter of October 21, regarding accommodations for candidates who are nursing during the bar exam.
Your most recent letter to us advised that the Board was “was continuing to review and consider its policies concerning breastfeeding by bar examinees” and that we would be provided a substantive response “once the consideration of the matter by the Board and the Court is completed.”
We certainly appreciate the Board’s desire to carefully consider this issue and “get it right.” However, we note that December 1st is the cut-off date for applying to sit for the next Bar examination (taking place in February), and is also the cut-off date for any person needing special accommodations under the ADA to seek them. We assume the same deadline would be in place for other requested accommodations. Even if there is only a slim possibility that an applicant needing breastfeeding accommodations will be applying for the upcoming exam, we believe it is critical that this issue be addressed before another exam period goes by.
In calling for prompt action at this point, we note that it has been over three months since this issue was first raised with the Board. In addition, while they may vary in the details, every other state in New England has some type of breastfeeding accommodation policy in place. As we have previously noted, many other states across the country also have strong policies to accommodate breastfeeding women, and we have provided the Board with ready-made model language to consider.
Under the circumstances, we strongly believe there is no reason for this to be delayed any longer. We therefore request the Board to take up this matter expeditiously and adopt a policy designed to meaningfully accommodate breastfeeding applicants in time for the next Bar exam.
We thank you again for your consideration of this matter, and are hopeful for a positive response. We remain available to talk in more detail about this with you and members of the Board. In light of the time constraints referenced here, we look forward to hearing back from you soon.
Steven Brown, Executive Director
American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island
128 Dorrance Street, Suite 220 – Providence, RI 02903 firstname.lastname@example.org
Jane W. Koster, President
League of Women Voters of Rhode Island
172 Taunton Avenue, Suite 8 - East Providence, RI 02914 email@example.com
Susan Yolen, Vice President for Policy and Advocacy
Planned Parenthood of Southern New England
111 Point Street – Providence, RI 02903
Jenn Steinfeld, Executive Director
Women’s Fund of Rhode Island
One Union Station - Providence, Rhode Island 02903 firstname.lastname@example.org
Shandi Hanna, President
Rhode Island NOW
PO Box 8413 - Warwick, RI 02888 email@example.com
Rhode Island Women’s Bar Association
10 Weybosset Street, #800 - Providence, RI 02903 firstname.lastname@example.org
cc: Nancy Mahoney
Galen Sherwin, ACLU Women’s Rights Project