LEE COUNTY, Fla. — The year 2020 got off to a smooth start for Lauren Martinez and her family. She and her husband were employed, and she had just given birth to a healthy baby.
But, things got shaky at her dental office job when it came time to nurse her newborn. She says there was nowhere to pump breastmilk in the office.
“I stopped nursing because I felt like it was interfering with my job,” she said.
She says that was one example of putting her job first. The next came at the height of the pandemic when schools and daycares closed. On some days, her teenage daughter would babysit her younger children.
Then, her teen and son got sick. She called off work for three days in May 2020, communicating with her supervisor each day.
“I felt like I should’ve been able to take a little time off just to get my children through that,” said Martinez.
Realizing it was too much for her teen to take care of her younger brothers while doing virtual learning, Martinez suggested talking to her supervisor about working from home.
That’s when he sent her this text.
“The feedback from the higher ups is if you cannot come in due to child care…is the position is vacated. Meaning you no longer have your job here. I’m sorry to break it to you in this way…”
“If I would’ve known that asking a question would turn into me losing my job, in hindsight, of course, I probably wouldn’t have asked that question,” said Martinez.
Even after that first text, her employer told her to show up to work the following Monday. When she did, they fired her in person for poor attendance.
Martinez isn’t the only mom going through this. Her story has gotten national traction. This week she was featured in Time Magazine, gracing the cover with her family.
Out of a job, she decided to sue her former employer. Martinez’s attorney Benjamin Yormak says unfortunately her situation isn’t uncommon.
“These situations disproportionately affect women who are still traditionally the primary caregivers,” he said.
The U.S. Census Bureau has data to back that up. A survey released last summer explains:
Women ages 25-44 are almost three times as likely as men to not be working due to childcare demands. About one in three of these women are not working because of childcare, compared to 12.1% of men in the same age group.
When schools and daycare facilities closed last year, Congress passed the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Act (EFMLA) to protect jobs for working parents. Yormak says it’s for people who couldn’t come into the office because they couldn’t find childcare.
“The law’s there to say she doesn’t have to make the choice between does she have a job or does she care for her kids,” said Yormak.
Martinez says it’s up to her old employer to rectify this situation.
“I just want them to acknowledge what they did was wrong,” she said.
The corporate team that owns the dental office where Martinez worked did not return Fox 4’s call as of Friday evening. Fox 4 has chosen not to name the office until we give them an opportunity to share their perspective.
Martinez says her supervisor even asked her husband to delete text messages telling Martinez her position was vacated because she couldn’t find childcare. Insulted, her husband also left that dental office. They’ve been struggling to make ends meet, but she hopes putting her story out there will protect other parents who find themselves in a situation like this.