Edward T. Gignoux United States Courthouse in Portland, Maine. Credit: Troy R. Bennett

A former Falmouth teacher has sued the school district alleging that her contract was not renewed because she took three breaks a day to express and save breast milk after returning from maternity leave.

Shana Swenson, 33, of Portland filed her lawsuit May 10 in U.S. District Court in Portland. She is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, claiming discrimination on the basis of gender and pregnancy.

She also is asking U.S. District Court Judge George Singal to order the district to promulgate an effective policy to prevent similar discrimination in future.

Melissa Hewey, the Portland attorney who represents Falmouth Public Schools, denied the allegations Thursday.

“Ms. Swenson’s claim that the Falmouth School Department discriminated against her is false,” she said. “In fact, Falmouth works hard to support employees who are parents by, among other things, providing mothers with paid time to breast feed and express breast milk during the school day, extended parental leave when needed, and an on-site day care for employees so that they are able to be near their children and participate in their care during the working day.”

Swenson first was hired by the district to be the Response to Intervention teacher for grades 3 through 5 at Falmouth Elementary School for the 2015-16 school year. Response to Intervention educators help students who are struggling with a skill or lesson to help them succeed in the classroom. It’s not just for children with special needs or a learning disability. Swenson worked with a team of education technicians to implement learning programs.

Swenson’s contract was renewed following a positive performance review for the 2016-17 school year, the complaint said. She went on maternity leave in January 2017, and her son was born the following month.

When she returned from maternity leave in August 2017, Swenson informed her supervisor and other members of her team that she would need to take three 20 minute breaks a day to either feed her child or express breast milk, the complaint said. Swenson’s son was enrolled in the on-site day care center.

Swenson was asked to reduce the number of times she fed her child or expressed milk and to do that during lunch and her planning time instead of when her body required her to do so, the complaint said. She continued her schedule to avoid clogged milk ducts or mastitis.

Members of her team allegedly criticized Swenson’s decision to express breast milk during working hours. That caused her to express concerns about possible discrimination and retaliation to her superviser.

After again telling her supervisor that she was being discriminated against, Swenson received her first negative evaluation in three years, the complaint said. Swenson was informed in May 2018 that her contract would not be renewed.

Information about whether Swenson has been working in the teaching profession in a different district was not available Thursday.

“Mrs. Swenson, after serving Falmouth Elementary School for three years, was surprised and hurt by the treatment she was subjected to during her employment,” Katie A. Beatty, an attorney with the Pennsylvania law firm representing Swenson, said Wednesday. “We look forward to the discovery process including depositions and document exchanges to vindicate our client’s rights.”

Hewey said that the decision not to renew Swenson’s contract “was based on her performance and we look forward to the opportunity to present the Falmouth School Department’s side of the story in court.”

A trial date has not been set.