Former deckhand looking to ‘Close’ door on workplace breastfeeding discrimination

The impossible decision to choose between a livable wage and care for a mother and her newborn child continues to be all too common in the workplace.

So when former Kitsap Transit deckhand Taylor Close was faced with the choice to forgo pumping breast milk for her son while on the job or switch positions and take a significant cut in pay, she ultimately chose a third option: to fight.

“Things didn’t need to happen this way,” she said. “All I wanted was, like, literal basic human kindness.”

Represented by attorney Michael Subit, Close recently filed a lawsuit against KT for alleged pregnancy discrimination. If successful, she would be awarded lost wages, benefits and compensatory damages to be determined at trial, among other court costs.

KT refused to respond for this story.

The hardships for Close began around three years into her work at KT when she disclosed she was pregnant. Court documents say she was reassigned to light duty on shore in July 2020, which Close said, despite pregnancy-related lifting restrictions, still required her to lift objects heavier than should have been allowed. Preterm bleeding finally forced Close to leave work for several weeks before giving birth that October.

“When I did get put into inventory, I don’t think anybody really understood what role they were throwing me into. Inventory for marine services is handling boat parts for ships, which is large,” she said.

Issues continued when Close met with a human resources representative in May 2021, who told her she would not be able to work as a deckhand while requesting accommodations to pump breast milk as it would require additional staffing. HR also reportedly rejected the use of a hands-free pump, which would have allowed her to continue her work without added breaks.

“I didn’t understand why it would be considered multitasking or why, if I was going to have to be reduced to a different position, why I couldn’t maintain my level of pay,” Close said. “I gave a multitude of different ideas on how this could be done, and every single one of them was just instantly shot down.”

Not able to afford the cut in pay, Close returned as a deckhand in June 2021, noting that in her first two months back, the agency was overstaffed. That allowed her to find some breaks to pump her milk in bathrooms, but the inconsistencies in scheduling created some “painful times” for her.

The final straw came in December 2021 when she resigned after learning HR, under a new director, had approved a hands-free pump for a different female employee. Close said KT advertises itself as “family-friendly” but she was denied her basic rights as a mother.

“I worked 70-hour weeks at one point for four months, and literally, when I asked anything of them, they hung me out to dry,” she said. “That is not a family-friendly company.”