BOCA RATON, Fla. Boca Raton resident Simone Bertucci filed a lawsuit this week against Houston's parent Hillstone Restaurant Group because the manager of a local unit asked her to leave the restaurant while she was breastfeeding her infant son.
Unaware that Florida law entitles women to breastfeed in public, Bertucci and her son Marcello relocated to her car while the rest of the family stayed to finish its meal. The Bertucci's were celebrating the 13th birthday of the family’s oldest son.
Bertucci filed the suit, in the 15th Judicial Court of Palm Beach County, largely to raise public awareness of mothers' right to breastfeed their children in public, said her attorney, Andrew Smith. He added that he and his client had not yet decided how much in compensation they will seek, but Hillstone spokesman Glenn Viers said the suit asks for hundreds of thousands of dollars in payment.
Hillstone does not deny that the 22-year-old manager of the unit mishandled the situation. Viers called it an unfortunate incident, and said the company "sees it as an opportunity to educate our managers." But he said that basing a lawsuit on the occurence is "absurd," and expressed hope that the court would summarily dismiss the action as lacking substance.
Viers noted that Hillstone had issued an apology to Bertucci, along with an invitation to return to the restaurant.
The situation underscores public sensitivities about breastfeeding, as Smith acknowledged. “Apparently my client’s [breastfeeding] offended the sensibilities of another Boca Raton patron – a woman – who then complained to the manager. Apparently the manager – who was also a woman - did not know the law because she asked my client to leave,” the attorney said.
In 1993, Florida passed what was heralded by a pro-nursing group, La Leche League International, as the first comprehensive breastfeeding legislation in the United States. Today approximately 39 states have some type of legislation pertaining to breastfeeding.
Bertucci contends she was breastfeeding her child under a blanket while at the Houston’s here, but the Florida law gives a mother the right to breastfeed whether or not she is covered or even exposes her nipples. The manager was apparently also unaware of a mother’s right, covered or not.
Smith said that the issue is so divisive it has even made the news in England. “People have been calling me from all over to voice opinions. Some older women who grew up in an era when breastfeeding was not in vogue feel very strongly against it. The opinions are all over the place and very, very strong,” he said.
This is not the only controversial incident involving breastfeeding in a public setting.
Others reported situations include a woman nursing her baby inside Johnny’s Barbecue in Cullman, Ala. She alleged that an employee threw a dirty towel over the baby’s head to cover it up.
Also, a woman reportedly got into a breastfeeding dispute in a Houston Ronald McDonald House. Last year it was reported that a woman was removed from a Delta Airlines flight in Vermont because she was breastfeeding.
Smith acknowledged Hillstone's efforts to address the situation.
"The company has admitted wrong doing and has apologized and has sent her check refunding the family’s meal for $150. But to date their position has been that their apology should suffice,” he said.
Smith added he has not heard from the company since Bertucci’s lawsuit was filed earlier this week.Viers said he had not seen a copy of the filing as of Thursday afternoon and was not familiar with its specific allegations.