Subscribe to this Blog
Today's Blogs
    The Checkup:

Breastfeeding Is No Excuse

A few weeks ago, I narrowly escaped landing on a jury that would have taken me out of commission for a week. Yes, I know that jury duty is an honor, a right and a privilege. But let's face it -- I've got realities that would have to be adjusted. For instance, I'd have to pay for child care on the day I don't work. And I'm pretty certain there's no reliable baby sitter willing to work for the $15 per day "expense" stipend provided by our county for jury duty.

During my day in court, court staffers who talked with jurors were clear: There is no excuse other than brain surgery that will get you out of serving. Kids need you? Sorry; figure it out. Breastfeeding? Not a chance.

Well, that's just what happened early this year to Maryland mom Elizabeth Jett, who told the Baltimore Examiner that she tried to move her jury duty because her son is nursing but was refused. She then failed to show up for jury duty and was held in contempt of court.

Jett isn't alone in facing this issue. Kentucky mom Kathye Schattner says on her Web site that she was shaken by a judge's treatment of her request to defer duty in 1999. That sparked her to launch a Web site devoted to family friendly juries in 2002.

Jury duty requirements vary by state. Virginia, California, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Oregon have enacted statutes that expressly excuse or defer jury service for breastfeeding mothers. Ten other states -- Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming -- have implemented family friendly jury duty laws that would likely incorporating nursing mothers, according to a Congressional Research Service report on the topic issued early last year.

How do you handle your family's care when you've got jury duty? Should all states have laws excusing breastfeeding moms from jury duty?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  April 16, 2008; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Babies
Previous: Computer Time for All Ages | Next: The Debate: Party Present Opening


My wife was very quickly and easily (over the phone) given a deferment because she was nursing our son and was the sole caregiver to 2 non school-aged kids. This was Montgomery County. They put her on a docket that would not have her name come up for 2 years. The outcome was perfect and pleasant.

Posted by: HappyDad | April 16, 2008 7:35 AM | Report abuse

In PA they provide childcare. My husband stayed home the day I reported, but I wasn't selected so I never found out about the quality of it. It was a daunting prospect for someone whose kids had never been in a daycare setting and were about2 and 4 at the time. In the end everyone has lives and complications, I don't know that moms or dads should have any special exemption.

Posted by: moxiemom | April 16, 2008 7:46 AM | Report abuse

Wouldn't the fact that you didn't want to be there and were angry and hostile about being asked to make financial sacrifices and had a screaming baby at home bias your rendering of a verdict? I would think that just not wanting to be there could in many ways alter your reading of the situation.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 16, 2008 8:00 AM | Report abuse

I'm all for treating parents the same as non-parents, but when breastfeeding is involved, I'd make an exception. Particularly if the child is less than six months old and still getting most (or all) of his/her nourishment from mom, separating them for days is disruptive and can permanently alter the nursing relationship.

I know that when I was nursing, my supply was so precarious that a few days away from DD could have meant the end of nursing for us. I'd be furious if a court made the decision for me that it was time to stop nursing.

Posted by: NewSAHM | April 16, 2008 8:07 AM | Report abuse

Like HappyDad's wife, I was quickly/easily given deferments (twice) by different DC courts. I was told that it's on a case by case basis, though (ie it's not legally guaranteed). For me the additional issue was that, as a SAHM at the time, I had no backup childcare. Is there such a thing in DC, btw? Backup childcare in case your regular childcare arrangements fall through?

Posted by: MamaBird/SurelyYouNest | April 16, 2008 8:12 AM | Report abuse

I had the same experience as Happy Dad's wife and MamaBird. I got called when my daughter was just a few months old, nursing exclusively, and got a deferment simply by checking the appropriate box on the form. A year later, I got another notice and was prepared to show up but they only needed folks with the first 150 numbers or something (there was a phone number to call the day before).

Posted by: PT Fed Mof2 | April 16, 2008 8:24 AM | Report abuse

I lived in Baltimore until 3 years ago. The two times I was called for jury duty for a Marlyand court, I was breastfeeding an infant. I was told, very clearly, that it was a legitimate reason to be excused from jury duty. I don't understand -- has the law changed or is it selectively applied? I actually just found the letters requiring me to report a few months ago. I had saved the first one because it was the first time I'd ever been called, and I saved the second one because of the irony. I actually would like to serve on a jury some day for the experience -- guess I need to get pregnant again or take drugs to start lactating.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | April 16, 2008 8:31 AM | Report abuse

To anon @ 8 am: if "not wanting to be there" was a valid excuse to get you out of jury duty, there'd never be enough jurors. I've never known anybody who wanted to be there. (Although yes, I'm sure there are a few.)

There are lots of reasons you can get out of jury duty or at least not get picked for a jury, it that's your aim. My grandmother was summoned for jury duty in Denver several times. Twice she was considered for the jury in a capital murder case. Both times, she told the judge that as a practicing Roman Catholic she thought the death penalty was a moral outrage and could never vote for it; and if it looked like the defendant was going to get it she'd vote "not guilty" regardless of the facts. Got her excused both times.

Posted by: ArmyBrat | April 16, 2008 8:38 AM | Report abuse

The only thing that's ever gotten me out FLAT is being a teacher. For some reason, CA is vitriolic about not taking teachers away from their posts. I still had to show up to CA's day of service, but I was not allowed into any voir dire, and was released at noon.

But I think CA also has a pumping area in the courthouse if you're breastfeeding, so you don't disrupt your rhythm while waiting for selection.

Posted by: Kat | April 16, 2008 8:40 AM | Report abuse


"To anon @ 8 am: if "not wanting to be there" was a valid excuse to get you out of jury duty, there'd never be enough jurors. I've never known anybody who wanted to be there. (Although yes, I'm sure there are a few.)"

This. Seriously. No one wants to be there. Not students who are going to fail their quarter exams because they've been summoned for their finals week, nor lawyers who have to jump through all kinds of hoops to get their court dates pushed back. But we all have to report, at the very least.

Posted by: Kat | April 16, 2008 8:43 AM | Report abuse

Sheesh. If you have an infant who has never taken a bottle or formula, you can't just make the poor little guy go cold turkey. Personally, I'd be tempted to bring the baby along with me -- kid's gotta eat, right?

Posted by: Laura | April 16, 2008 9:01 AM | Report abuse

My one experience with jury duty was in the midwest, and I worked at the county jail at the time LOL

I was sent a notice six months in advance and asked to select a month that would be least disruptive for me. I called the clerk of the court and we arranged that I would only be on the lists for civil trials, not criminal trials. Other exemptions listed on the initial form included disability, breastfeeding, child/elder care needs and financial hardship (all to be resolved on a case by case basis).

Basically, it seemed that while there was little blanket guarantee of not serving jury duty with any of these issues, the clerk of the court was very accomodating to individual needs.

Posted by: midwestern juror | April 16, 2008 9:11 AM | Report abuse

I was offered a private mother's room (fridge, sink, phone, gliding chair, it was nice!) to pump when I got jury duty and was breast feeding. My kid was already in daycare. My employer wasn't thrilled about me taking a day off when I had just gotten back from maternity leave, but that's her issue. I was ultimately excused after a few hours, since the trial was about child abuse and crazy new mother me broke down crying when the lawyers were making their first statements. Somehow they thought I wasn't the best fit...

Posted by: RiverCityRoller | April 16, 2008 9:20 AM | Report abuse

As a breastfeeding mother, I say "No, it should not be an excuse." Pumping is an option, and if it wasn't, I would try to work something out so I could feed my baby during a recess. Also, alternate child care for a SAHM can be done. Not convenient, but I just think it is a lame excuse. Think of the person who has a multi-million dollar project on the line for work when they are called. Would that get them out of duty?

Posted by: Anonymous | April 16, 2008 9:24 AM | Report abuse

I feel strongly that some excuses from jury duty are valid and exclusive breastfeeding and lack of day care are two of them. This doesn't mean that the person can't get called up again in a year.

Posted by: Leslie | April 16, 2008 9:32 AM | Report abuse

I was about 36 weeks pregnant when I was called for jury duty. I had a very important ob appointment 2 days from the start of the trial I was being interviewed for - the baby was breech and they were talking about trying to rotate her. I was worried about being able to reschedule an appt before it would be too late to rotate her. The judge refused to excuse me from the trial even though the trial was projected to last for several days. Similar to RiverCityRoller, the trial focused on a librarian's dereliction of duty supervising the children's room, and the defendant's lawyer didn't want a visibly pregnant woman seated on the jury. I followed someone's advice and brought a doctor's letter with me the following day, and when I was again selected to interview for another jury, that judge excused me on account of the doctor's appt. It was a quiet time at work, and I really liked to have served on the jury if I hadn't been ready to pop and wanting to attend my ob appt.

Posted by: Jill in NC | April 16, 2008 9:35 AM | Report abuse

I apologize, but this is really one of my pet peeves.
No "d" in privilege.

Posted by: DC | April 16, 2008 9:36 AM | Report abuse

I thought all states would excuse a breastfeeding mother! It seems obvious. Pumping would only work if 1. your child takes bottles (mine didn't for 2 months, although he was in daycare) and 2. if you have a pump and are given the time and a place to pump.

If I had to report when I was breastfeeding, I'd have brought the nursing infant with me. Up to 4-5 months, they're extremely portable. After that it's harder, you'd need a corner to put them down with toys. But they still need to eat!

Posted by: Toni | April 16, 2008 9:38 AM | Report abuse

I don't think breastfeeding should be singled out exclusively as an excuse. The policies other have mentioned where you can defer your duty because of a variety of personal issues seem more flexible.

My college-aged son was called and got his service moved to summer time because he wasn't able to come back from school for the appointed date.

I think some people have lucky stars or something. I've been called for Jury Duty several times but never even gotten as far as the selection process.

Posted by: RoseG | April 16, 2008 9:40 AM | Report abuse

"I feel strongly that some excuses from jury duty are valid and exclusive breastfeeding and lack of day care are two of them. This doesn't mean that the person can't get called up again in a year."

I think breast feeding and child care are two completely separate issues. Stating lack of child care can take a SAHM out of the court system at least five years, to the start of Kindergarten. Should that be a valid excuse? And then it goes further to after school care.

Child care can be arranged in advance. The jury notice is sent out with enough time.

I am inclined to think that breasfeeding should also have it's limitations as far as excuses go. For example, a newborn certainly needs more time than say, a 2 year old. But, just like any exemption request, it needs to go through the proper channels. I mean, if I just call up and say I'm breastfeeding, who is to know for sure if I am or not?

I'm not sure the Baltimore woman should be used as an example in this case, as it seems from the article that she ignored the denial letters, didn't pursue the issue further and just plain failed to show up. That is probably not the best way to go about it.

Posted by: prarie dog | April 16, 2008 9:56 AM | Report abuse

prarie dog

"I'm not sure the Baltimore woman should be used as an example in this case, as it seems from the article that she ignored the denial letters, didn't pursue the issue further and just plain failed to show up. That is probably not the best way to go about it. "


Posted by: Spike | April 16, 2008 10:24 AM | Report abuse

What is wrong with our justice system that they need nursing mothers? When I lived in Colorado, I had an infant who had a heart defect, was waiting for open heart surgery, on numerous meds and NO ONE would watch her for lawsuit reasons. What could I have done? The courts didn't care. I had her doctors write notes and no one cared. I moved the date twice and finally it was past her open heart, but it was wrong. I had served already 4 times previously (in 5 years) and I think I should have been allowed to defer until a better time.

Here in VA mothers with children under 10 who stay at home do not have to serve. I would be HAPPY to serve if someone could guarantee me good child care.

Posted by: Andrea | April 16, 2008 10:47 AM | Report abuse

I have never called. But I think if they won't excuse a nursing mother, she should be entitled to pumping breaks, nursing breaks, or be allowed to bring her infant. Unless it is an undue financial hardship, I don't think arranging for child care is a huge burden. You generally get sufficient notice of your duty call. I don't think people should be excused just because they don't want to pay or arrange child care. That is different then a truly poor person, who can't afford child care. In those cases, the courts should provide child care or give an excuse. But different states excuse all kinds of people: teachers, policemen, students etc...

Posted by: foamgnome | April 16, 2008 11:09 AM | Report abuse

Oh, this is just stupid. If you add up the number of years that women breastfeed, it's typically VERY few, especially considering that two kids is the most common number of kids to have. So, why in the world would it be such a hardship for the court system to excuse a woman from jury duty if she's breastfeeding? I mean, really, we're talking maybe 2 or 3 years, on average, out of a woman's 60 or so years in her adult life. Not a big deal. Just excuse the breastfeeding women.

Posted by: Ryan | April 16, 2008 11:18 AM | Report abuse

Sensationalism, plain and simple. The following is why she was held in contempt:

"Manuel said Jett had not responded to the initial letters about jury duty, and after having her written request denied, did not show up for duty Oct. 9."

Here's a hint for those of you who think the issue here has anything to do with breastfeeding: When you receive an official notice to appear in court, do not just throw it in the garbage unless you enjoy being locked in a cage.

Posted by: Bob | April 16, 2008 11:25 AM | Report abuse

I was excused the first time as the primary caregiver to a child under five. The second time, I was working full time (darn!) - so - as it happened, I called the night before and was told (via recording) that I did not have to report.
You are excused as the primary caregiver to a child under five - I don't know what happens once the child is in school and is needing someone at 3 PM, but they don't seem to care all that much.

It used to be that a mom was excused until the kid was 18 (I don't think my mom ever served because of that). Things have changed over the years. I have two more years as primary caregiver. Then I guess I'll have to serve...:)

Posted by: atlmom | April 16, 2008 11:26 AM | Report abuse

I don't know how it works in the other Washington, but out here a note from your employer stating that you are too valuable to the company to miss work will get you out of jury duty. So the answer to:

"Think of the person who has a multi-million dollar project on the line for work when they are called. Would that get them out of duty?"

is Yes.

It seems the same courtesy could easily be applied to primary care givers. Also arraigning temporary, open ended (what if you get picked and it's a long trial) child care is no where near as easy or cheap as some posters seem to be suggesting.

Posted by: in Seattle | April 16, 2008 11:42 AM | Report abuse

For the SAHMs who don't have backup child care: What about DAD?

I know some mothers are single and don't have family near by who can step in, but if you're a SAHM I assume you have a husband who is earning income for the family.

Posted by: Lisa | April 16, 2008 11:43 AM | Report abuse

All states should allow someone to move their jury duty forward for up to one year.

My wife was not allowed to move her date forward and was stuck pumping while I took time off to pick up and deliver kids. Luckily my wife's trial was only a few days.

A friend of mine was hired right out of college for a good job, but was picked to be on the jury for a long trial. She tried to come in every day the jury was out, but one Monday she came in and her stuff was sitting in the lobby and someone else was at her desk. She couldn't be fired for being on jury duty, so when they hired her replacement they gave her a crappy job as a receptionist and assistant. People lose their jobs over over jury duty and the government does not and will not accept that fact.

I worked for a guy who was up for a promotion and didn't get it because he had grand jury duty for a month and he NEVER came in after the day was over. So he was denied a promotion.


Posted by: Anonymous | April 16, 2008 12:09 PM | Report abuse

For Seattle: My impression is the judges in the other Washington (D.C.) are far less forgiving. My friend was selected for grand jury duty, expected last for months. A high ranking Administration official wrote the judge, stating that she couldn't serve because she worked closely with the Secretary of her agency on important projects of national significance (which was pretty accurate). The judge responded "He must think I was born yesterday." She served.

Posted by: Lisa | April 16, 2008 12:11 PM | Report abuse


W"hen I lived in Colorado, I had an infant who had a heart defect, was waiting for open heart surgery, on numerous meds and NO ONE would watch her for lawsuit reasons. What could I have done? The courts didn't care. "

What does "The courts didn't care " mean?

Posted by: Puzzled | April 16, 2008 12:34 PM | Report abuse

Geeze, if we only allow those without important jobs or kids then we'll have juries of senior citizens. It is a duty that we owe, just go do it. Frankly, most of us get a lot more from this country than we give. Remember, you never know if you will have a jury deciding your fate one day - do you really want only people who don't have anything more important to do deciding your fate. Seriously, aren't there bigger fish to fry.

Posted by: Moxiemom | April 16, 2008 1:01 PM | Report abuse

Has anyone tried just showing up with kids in tow? I bet that would keep you from getting selected -- and makes it clear that you don't have alternate arrangements.

Posted by: no name | April 16, 2008 1:27 PM | Report abuse

Ironically, I am on tap for jury duty this whole month in federal court here -- every Friday, gotta call to see if I have to report Monday (doesn't THAT make it fun to plan?). I was called this week, but didn't make the cut (big surprise there -- only Q was which side was going to ding me).

But I was originally called a few months ago, during a month that I had a client trip planned every single week. I asked, and the court postponed my service for that. So if that was an acceptable excuse, I don't understand why feeding your child would not be. Like I said earlier, I think in her shoes, I'd have just brought the baby with me.

Posted by: Laura | April 16, 2008 1:57 PM | Report abuse

Uh, Moxiemom, that frequently is the case, particularly with long trials. They're populated with retirees.

BTW, who says that people don't want to serve on juries? I would be happy to -- if I weren't working. It would be very interesting.

Posted by: Ryan | April 16, 2008 2:02 PM | Report abuse

"The Courts didn't care" means exactly what it sounds like. Come to court or else you'll be held in contempt. We don't care that no one will watch your child; we don't care that the doctor says you can't leave your infant; we don't care that you continually serve and you're not just making an excuse.

I had NO family in CO and my husband needed to use his time off to be with us in Denver for the open heart surgery. No Family Leave at the time.

Posted by: Andrea | April 16, 2008 3:33 PM | Report abuse

A lawyer friend (an oxymoron, I know) once told me "If you want a jury of your peers, burn your college degree and get a job making ten dollars an hour. Because that's who makes up the vast majority of juries."

Posted by: Anonymous | April 16, 2008 3:46 PM | Report abuse

I'd also like to serve on a jury. But when attorneys find out I'm an Application Systems Engineer (that means computer-geek to them), I get eliminated very quickly. Apparently I'm too logical and unemotional, and they'd rather have a jury of people whose emotions are easily swayed.

Here in CA, DH has gotten excused every time he's received a notice. He checks the box for being the primary care-giver for a young child, elderly, or disabled person, and sends the notice back. It's never been questioned, or been a problem.

I never got called while I was nursing either of the kids, but if I had, and if the court couldn't accommodate my pumping (pretty easy for me at work, but *not* easy for a lot of mothers), yes, I would have brought the baby with me, and would have had a lot of "accidentally" exposed breastfeeding. But I have very little modesty, and can take a great deal of evil joy from making other people squirm!

Posted by: Sue | April 16, 2008 4:38 PM | Report abuse

Sorry to be so late adding to the discussion, but here in Mass., anyone can defer up to one year with no explanation and no penalty. So, if you are breast-feeding, or sole caretaker for your ailing parent, or doing your PhD thesis, or whatever, then defer. Problems *can* come in if your circumstances change in a year and you can't make the date you suggested to the court. There are still exemptions for ill-health and a few other reasons.

The courts are very strict in MA. No asking the jury pool about their background, so I don't get dismissed for being a Math/Sci geek. Only a few preemptory challenges and those challenges based on the questions the judge asks- "Do you know any of the parties?", etc. NO exemptions for that million-dollar deal. No exemptions for child-care. Heck, they didn't even exempt Stephen Breyer from jury duty here. :)

Posted by: inBoston | April 16, 2008 6:41 PM | Report abuse

I would think that being the primary caregiver for anyone (child, disabled person, elderly adult) should be enough to get a deferment for jury duty. People in such positions generally don't have backup.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 17, 2008 6:01 PM | Report abuse

"It is a duty that we owe, just go do it. Frankly, most of us get a lot more from this country than we give."

Absolute rubbish on both counts!

Posted by: Jeek | April 18, 2008 9:22 AM | Report abuse

I live in the Cleveland (OH) area and served on a jury in 2002 (aggravated murder/aggravated robbery) and 2006 (robbery and kidnapping). I got called again, and am starting jury duty again tomorrow. I don't know if there are exemptions for breastfeeding/new moms here, but there are no exemptions for people working in certain careers. On the last trial I served on, there were two teachers (from the same suburban district, interestingly) and they both served on the jury with me. They had to get substitutes for their classes. I have two kids, but I already work full-time, so the kids are at school/daycare during the day anyway, so I haven't had to make special arrangements for them when I've done jury duty.

I read in our local newspaper a few months ago about a woman who showed up for jury duty, was selected for a trial, then told the judge she couldn't serve because she was too busy with work and planning her upcoming wedding. The judge didn't want to hear it, so then (it was a murder trial) she told the judge she's a "clean-cut girl" and she's not looking at any crime scene photos. She then refused to show back up to court, so the judge had her found in contempt of court, and sentenced her to perform communtiy service equal to the number of hours the jury spent on the case (it lasted a couple of weeks).

I personally enjoyed jury duty, and am looking forward to starting again tomorrow.

Posted by: Laura | April 20, 2008 7:49 PM | Report abuse

Wow! I've been called for jury duty twice, both times when I had an exclusively nursing infant and no child care. Here in Texas, I just checked the box on the enclosed card for an automatic exemption - "Primary caregiver for a child or children under ten years old". Exempted!

I can't imagine why some states want to deal with upending little children's lives in order to get Mom to serve on a jury right that minute. There will likely be decades when I'm available to serve on a jury, without traumatizing any little kids.

(Plus ... wouldn't you think they'd need jurors who weren't sitting there trying to concentrate on the case while worrying about how their nursing babies or little kids were coping with their first day in hastily arranged day care? I just can't get my mind around it.)

Posted by: Teresa | April 23, 2008 10:15 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company