Woman Sues Walker Art Center After Staff Ask Her to Leave While Breastfeeding

Parents are allowed to nurse children 'wherever they feel most comfortable,' according to the museum's website.

Walker Art Center. Photo: McGhiever via Wikimedia Commons.

A Minnesota woman has filed a lawsuit against the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis after a male staff member prevented her from breastfeeding her child in one of the museum’s galleries.

The lawsuit, obtained by Artnet News, was filed in the Hennepin County District Court on May 9 and was first reported by local news outlet KARE. In it, the mother, Megan Mzenga, alleged that the museum violated her civil rights under state law.

Mzenga said in her lawsuit that she visited the Walker on March 2 with members of her family, including her now eight-month-old daughter and three-year-old son, to participate in “family day” activities hosted by the museum each month.

“Mzenga, a breastfeeding mother, believed that the Walker would be a great place to go with her young children since, in part, the museum’s breastfeeding policy clearly states that mothers ‘are free to nurse children wherever feels most comfortable,’” her lawyers wrote in the lawsuit. That policy is listed on the website’s tips for visiting with children.

Soon after arriving at the museum, Mzenga realized that her daughter needed to be fed and sat down in one of the Walker’s galleries to begin breastfeeding when a male staff member told her that, “You can’t do that here,” according to the lawsuit.

He advised that he would call her an escort and began speaking in a walkie-talkie to have her removed. In comments to KARE, Mzenga added that her husband was in another section of the museum doing activities with their son when she chose to feed their daughter.

But she decided to exit the gallery on her own to avoid a possible physical removal and left “in a state of confusion and embarrassment,” her lawyers wrote in the lawsuit.

“She felt extremely embarrassed and like she was doing something wrong. But most significantly, Ms. Mzenga felt a deep sense that she was not welcome and did not ‘belong’ at the Walker because she is a breastfeeding mother,” her lawyers wrote.

Before she left the museum, she quickly finished feeding her daughter and spoke with another staff member to ask about the institution’s breastfeeding policy. That employee said they were not sure and advised her that she could leave a comment card. The Walker’s manager of visitor and gallery operations later followed up with her and told Mzenga she was “in the right.”

Still, Mzenga believes her ordeal constitutes a violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act which states that it is an unfair discriminatory practice to deny someone the enjoyment of goods or services because of their sex and the discrimination was done with “malice.”

A spokesperson for the Walker Art Center said the museum cannot comment on the specifics of the pending litigation, but added that visitors are welcome and encouraged to breastfeed wherever they’re most comfortable throughout the building, “including the galleries.” Additionally, visitors wishing for privacy can use a small family-friendly room with a couch, sink, and bathroom on the building’s ninth floor.

Bottle feeding falls under our food and beverage policy and is not allowed in the galleries,” the spokesperson noted.

Under Minnesota law, women are also authorized to breastfeed in any location “irrespective of whether the nipple of the mother’s breast is uncovered during or incidental to the breastfeeding.”

“In Minnesota, the law is clear,” Abou Amara, Mzenga’s attorney, said in comments to KARE. “Women have the right to feed their children in public, and when they can’t, they are being discriminated against in violation of Minnesota law.”

Many museums have previously faced criticism for their policies regarding breastfeeding and maternal support, especially among their staffs. In 2018, curator Nikki Columbus made headlines when she filed a lawsuit against MoMA PS1 for discrimination after the museum rescinded a job offer after learning she recently had a baby. The case was eventually settled out of court.

Research has also found that parental leave policies for women employed at museums across the nation vary widely; some women have have had to stop breastfeeding because of inadequate facilities to pump or breastfeed at work.

“I don’t think everybody realizes that when people come back from maternity leave, yes they’re back, but they’re also pumping,” said Whitney Museum curator Rujeko Hockley after gave birth to her son in 2019. “That has to be part of the ways companies look at family policies. The times you pump are set. It’s your internal body schedule.”

In 2021, the Freelands Foundation’s annual report on the representation of female artists in Britain included guidelines on how to make the art world more hospitable for parents Among other things, those guidelines advised institutions to be friendly to breastfeeding.

Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.
Article topics