A judge rejected a Harvard student’s request Wednesday for extra break time during her nine-hour medical licensing exam so she could pump breast milk for her infant daughter.
Sophie Currier, 33, sued after the National Board of Medical Examiners turned down her request to take more than the standard 45 minutes in breaks during the exam.
She said that if she does not nurse her 4-month-old daughter, Lea, or pump breast milk every two to three hours, she risks medical complications.
Norfolk Superior Court Judge Patrick Brady said Currier has other options, beyond asking the board to change its rules for her.
“The plaintiff may take the test and pass, notwithstanding what she considers to be unfavorable conditions. The plaintiff may delay the test, which is offered numerous times during the year, until she has finished her breast-feeding and the need to express milk,” he said.
Currier has finished a joint M.D.-Ph.D. program at Harvard University while having two babies in two years. She has been offered a residency in clinical pathology at Massachusetts General Hospital in November, but cannot accept it unless she passes the test. Her goal is a career in medical research.
She has already received special accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act for dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, including being granted permission to take the test over two days instead of one.
In the lawsuit, she was seeking an additional 60-minute break on each day. The board cited the need to be consistent in the amount of time given to doctoral candidates and said other nursing mothers who have taken the exam have found the 45 minutes of permitted break time sufficient.
Federal anti-discrimination laws do not protect nursing mothers. The Breastfeeding Promotion Act that is pending in Congress would protect women from being fired or punished for pumping milk or nursing.