Mary Martinez speaks about the Target breastfeeding incident

Earlier this week I wrote about the police being called on a breastfeeding mom in a Michigan Target store. Mary Martinez and her husband Jose were shopping in a Harper Woods, Mich., Target store, where Mary was nursing her 4-week-old baby girl in the electronics section. They were told by a Target security guard that breastfeeding in public is “against the law” and told they had to leave. When they disputed it, the police were called. The couple and baby eventually left, feeling embarrassed.

Mary has since kindly told me a little more of what happened this past Sunday. She addressed the concern that some raised that she was not being “discreet” and gave an update regarding her correspondence with the Target corporate office.

I was very discreet. She’s my 3rd child and I breastfed the other 2 until they were 2, I know how to be discreet. LOL If you can watch the news clip, I was nursing then and I imagine that’s as much skin as I showed in the store…none.

I spoke with [Target] corporate yesterday [Dec. 2]. I received an apology and admission of wrong doing, and that no one complained.  I want an amended press release, removing the part that reads that anything escalated and that they were concerned about the safety of their other customers. …Until then, this story is to be continued.

(You can view the video at Fox 2 News.)

Mary also added that she’d like to tell me more about what happened, but she’s been going through a “rough time” lately and is “really tired right now.” I can only imagine. She’s four weeks postpartum, has two older children and is dealing with all of this Target stuff on top of it.

She said that she hasn’t yet contacted FirstRight (a site where they collect information to determine how best to support a mother who has experienced discrimination due to breastfeeding), but she plans on it.

I sent my own letter to Target, copying and pasting what I had written on my blog as well as adding “I like Target. I want to continue to shop there, but I want to see more support for breastfeeding moms and children and I believe an apology from the company to Mary Martinez for discriminating against her and her child is in order. Please make sure employees are properly trained on the laws regarding breastfeeding. It is not a crime. Thank you for your time.”
I received this form letter response from guest.relations@target.com:

Dear Amy Gates,

Thanks for asking us about breastfeeding in our stores. As a family-oriented retailer, Target has a long-standing practice that supports breastfeeding in our stores.

We want everyone to feel comfortable shopping at Target. Guests who choose to breastfeed in public areas of the store are welcome to do so without being made to feel uncomfortable. Additionally, we support the use of fitting rooms for women who wish to breastfeed their babies, even if others are waiting to use the fitting rooms.

We strive to provide a distraction-free environment for all our guests, including nursing moms. We regret the incident in our store and will continue to provide a shopping environment that respects the needs of all guests, including nursing mothers.

At Target, we work hard to provide you with an enjoyable shopping experience. If you ever have concerns during your visit, please visit the Guest Service Desk and ask to speak to the Guest Service Team Leader. They’ll make every attempt to resolve the issue while you’re in the store.

We appreciate the opportunity to share this information with you.

Sincerely,

Matthew
Target Guest Relations
www.target.com
(800) 440-0680

[THREAD ID:1-78AVUL]

It sounds like lip service to me. When I read, “We regret the incident in our store and will continue to provide a shopping environment that respects the needs of all guests, including nursing mothers.” it sounds to me like they are sorry they are getting negative press as a result of the incident, not that they are sorry that an employee discriminated against a shopper and that the police were called. Not that they are sorry for the grief they have caused the Martinez family.

I’m not calling for a boycott of Target. I think that is extreme for this situation. However, I am not sure when I will be shopping there again. I will be watching this case to see how it all pans out. I’d like to see them resolve this well. I think they should have apologized from the get-go and not released the statement about being concerned for the safety of their guests. I’ve never seen a breastfeeding mom and baby pose a safety issue. Most moms simply want to take care of the needs of their baby and go about their business.

I want to address more concerns/issues that were raised in the comments section of my first post, but will save that for another post, another day.

Mary, please know that there are many of us who fully support you. I hope that because of the attention drawn to your situation, it will prevent another mother and child from being discriminated against in the future. As it is House Bill 5515 in Michigan – which would grant to a woman the right to breastfeed in a public place and prohibit practices that would discriminate against the woman because she was breastfeeding a child – passed out of committee on a vote of 11 to 2 after the hearing on Dec. 2. (Thanks to Angela White for this good news update!) As Angela told me, “The committee members did know about the Target incident so while it was terribly unfortunate, the timing just might have helped push forward that important legislation!”

The breastfeeding discrimination might not end overnight, but we are making headway and going in the right direction. :)

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45 thoughts on “Mary Martinez speaks about the Target breastfeeding incident

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  3. It was obvious she wasn’t endangering the other customers by the mere fact that she was carrying her newborn baby. Mother’s carrying their newborns avoid dangerous situations, not cause them. Also, if that allegation had been true, child services would have been involved & she would have lost her kids. Obviously, that did not happen. That allegation just goes against all logic.

    Mothers of all races are discriminated against when breastfeeding in public, but this incident seems particularly harsh. I wonder if the security guard would have been just as aggressive, & Target corporate would have been as dismissive and lied if it had been a white mother?

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  6. Hey there Crunchy,
    Will you be contacting Tiger Woods to discuss his infidelity? I think you should and boycott watching golf.
    Just sayin’
    What cracks me up is how you are ready to ban Target but lord knows you’ll be sneaking in there at night to purchase something last minute.
    Sounds to me like they apologized to Mary, and now as usual, no one will be satisfied until we see a breast feeding mama on World News Tonight with a Target representative standing there to profusely and repeatedly apologize. What’s next? A demand for an unlimited shopping spree from Target for every woman that was “offended” by their mistake?

  7. Hey Sophia – Crunchy actually explicitly DIDN’T call for a Target boycott and I think you are being quite rude to suggest that she would publicly announce she was boycotting them then betray her own principles by sneaking in there. This may be a foreign concept to you, but some people do choose to live guided by their beliefs, even when that makes life a smidgen less convenient.

    Also, that was a lame apology.

  8. Did you actually read the blog post, Sophia? Sheesh. If you don’t think being confronted about meeting your newborns needs and then having the police call on you would be “offensive” (since you put it in quotations, I can only read it as sarcasm), then I cannot imagine what would be. Oh, maybe someone implying that you aren’t really ethical. I guess that would be offensive. If you don’t have anything nice, or intelligent, to say…well, you know.

    Mary, thank you for calmly representing nursing mothers and gracefully holding your ground. While I am so sorry this happened to you, I am glad that you may have pushed some important legislation through. This is (unfortunately) how important change is made–you go girl.

    Amy, thanks for the follow up.

  9. I am so sorry to hear about this incident– thank you for bringing it to our attention! I have to say, though, that I’ve breastfed all over our Target with nary a problem. Also, they ARE very forthcoming with their dressing rooms for breastfeeding. I tend to choose to breastfeed in there because you can actually sit down comfortably. The store employee went out of her way to actually take me in before other customers who were waiting for a dressing room, which is not something you see all the time.

    Anyhow, sounds to me like an isolated incident, not necessarily a chain-wide policy. However I do think it’s important to raise awareness of such things so that perhaps Target can make sure that all their stores know that breastfeeding should be welcomed and, wherever possible, made easier.

  10. Amy,

    Thanks for following up.

    I think the question I have right now is What Would Be Enough?

    What would make everyone happy and satisfied and put the issue to rest?

    What message are we sending when we can’t forgive and move on? I’m hearing from Mary’s comments that she needs to focus on other things and I think we all do too.

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  13. My daughter’s mom nursed in public without any incident during the 2+ years she did it. Being within the AP circles, I am a believer in breastfeeding for as long as it’s practical.

    Being around the AP crowd, I grew accustomed to women flashing me and not getting a sexual rise out of it. On a certain level, yes, the ability to care for a child is sexy, but you know what I mean.

  14. I think this incident, while terribly unfortunate for the mother, just screams poor training and a total lack of understandiing on the part of the store personnel.

    We should not be shamed but we should not retaliate, either. We need to settle these matters – especially when the corporate policy IS stated to be breastfeeding friendly – when they happen.

    Knowing our rights and protecting them are our responsibility, too.

  15. I don’t have an opinion on the boycott question (though this post was very clear in not advocating one, hello?), but I will say that I unexpectedly opted to go to the mall the other day for a few things rather than stop at our brand-spanking-new Target that I’m obsessed with. It was a split second decision made by a mom carting around a month-old nursing daughter.

    What will be enough? I don’t think that’s the question. This is a good discussion to have. Just reading Mama H’s comment made me feel better about Target’s usual practices and I agree that they should actively teach how to work with breastfeeding mothers. Look, if I was 17 and faced with that request, I might get embarrassed. Who knows. Let’s help prepare them to know how to work with these mothers.

    But not those breastfeeding mothers that are flaunting their boobs to the security cameras and trying to shoot out the racks of candlesticks, because that’s just nasty. (insert your own sarcasm detection here)

  16. It’s interesting to me how many women are so quick to make it seem like we (read: breastfeeding moms who are upset about this) are out to get someone – or get some reward for thinking Target was wrong here. Mary hasn’t asked for one thing from Target other than acknowledgement that they did something wrong…which they did! She didn’t even mention not wanting to go there again…she said she felt like she wouldn’t be welcome or comfortable going there. Who would? Do you go places that you were asked to leave? It’s unfortunate that people are getting so upset with Mary, instead of trying to think about what they might do or feel like if they were put in her position. I will admit that I was angry enough at Target to want to never go there again. I think they have slightly improved their statement, because when I got a reply to my e-mail it still said that escalation part…which is ridiculous!

    I wish that the legislation in Michigan wasn’t required…that we could all think about how someone else might feel, instead of worrying so much about how WE feel. Unfortunately, it’s incidents like this that show how much we need laws like this one.

    Please ask Tonya Schuitmaker and Justin Amash why they voted no in the House Judiciary Committee and ask your own Michigan Representative to vote yes when this comes to the full House vote!

    Thanks Crunchy for addressing this and following up.

  17. I have not shopped at Target ever dince they wouldn’t allow Bell Ringers from the Salvation Army to ring bells at their stores,citing that they give a ton of $$$ to charity- again more Target lip service.
    So let me srr if I got this right- no bell ringers or donation pots at christmas to help the Salvation Army fed homeless people, no breastfeeding hungry babies in their stores… seems to me that target doesn’t want hungry people to eat, I say boycott target- and the store manager and the security guard should lose their jobs over this- but then that will be two more people that the Slavation army needs to feed-

  18. Unfortunately, I think large retailers that just need bodies in the stores to do the grunt work tend to skimp on fully training employees. After all, from a money perspective, it’s expensive to train an employee making minimum wage or just above it, especially when the chances they might quit in a month are high. My brother is a retail manager and turnover among employees is high in jobs in retail. And it’s not just breastfeeding–I witnessed employees at both a Target and a Walmart telling customers with service dogs that they couldn’t have their pet in the store, when it was plainly obvious that the animal was NOT a pet and was a working dog AND are permitted by law.

    I’m also hoping that the comments left by Mary on your previous post are not actually by Mary, because while I’m supportive of breastfeeding anywhere and anytime, I’d have a harder time supporting a woman who would make such judgemental statements about formula moms.

  19. Unfortunately, I think large retailers that just need bodies in the stores to do the grunt work tend to skimp on fully training employees. After all, from a money perspective, it’s expensive to train an employee making minimum wage or just above it, especially when the chances they might quit in a month are high. My brother is a retail manager and turnover among employees is high in jobs in retail. And it’s not just breastfeeding–I witnessed employees at both a Target and a Walmart telling customers with service dogs that they couldn’t have their pet in the store, when it was plainly obvious that the animal was NOT a pet and was a working dog AND are permitted by law.

    I’m also hoping that the comments left by Mary on your previous post are not actually by Mary, because while I’m supportive of breastfeeding anywhere and anytime, I’d have a harder time supporting a woman who would make such judgemental statements about formula moms.

  20. Thank you for the follow-up. I remain extremely disappointed with Target’s initial response. They do still have time to rectify it, though, so hopefully they will do that.

    As it is, we don’t have Target in Canada, and so any actions on my part are fairly meaningless. But I am supportive of Mary all the same, and I hope that she receives an adequate apology and recognition of what happened to her.

  21. I’m learning here. As a child raised in a home where extended breastfeeding was the norm, I’m always shocked that anyone would tell a mom not to feed her child. That someone would think feeding a baby is ILLEGAL? So beyond me.

    Though I am a very modest person and I’m sure I won’t be happy to breastfeed my baby in public, I realize it’s going to have to happen occasionally. I could, however, imagine my husband getting angry and telling off someone trying to stop me from feeding my baby. I’m not saying that’s what happened here, I’m just saying that I could see a dad defend his wife and child in a way a security guard would interpret as escalating the situation. But they forget to mention that the security guard wrongly started the situation in the first place.

  22. I breastfed my daughter in a Target in northern Indiana a few weeks ago. I went to the furniture section, pulled out a display chair and sat down. A handful of customers and at least one employee saw me and no one said anything.

    I guess there will always be the possibility of a person being an ass to a breastfeeding mother, but my experiences nursing in public so far make me think things are getting better.

  23. From everything I am reading there is no law specifically stating that a mother has the right to breastfeed on private property in Michigan. Target is private property. They do have the right to ask you to leave. It is NOT illegal for you to breastfeed there but they still do not legally have to let you. It is not the policy of Target to disallow breastfeeding in their stores though so they would likely not ask you to leave unless you were being blatantly inappropriate, breastfeeding or not. People are acting like her rights were violated. They were not. Target is not a public park. The laws have not come very far in Michigan yet. You cannot be charged with public nudity or indecent exposure while breastfeeding but that does not mean that everyone is required to allow you to breastfeed while on their property. To tell her that what she was doing was illegal is wrong though. I suspect that man was just misinformed and probably either does not have kids or does but the mom did not breastfeed so he is uncomfortable with it.

  24. @anon

    I am not a Michigan lawyer. However, my understanding is that currently Michigan exempts breastfeeding from public indecency laws but, as you say, does not explicitly state that breastfeeding is protected anywhere a mother might legally be (which I believe is the language in the legislation currently being considered).

    That does not, however, mean that Target legally has a right to refuse her service because of her breastfeeding status. They might or might not argue that successfully.

    A civil rights lawsuit arguing that her right to breastfeed in a place open to the public is already federally protected because her status as a mother is part of her protected class as a gender…might also be argued successfully.

    So, your point is definitely taken that Michigan does not explicitly protect her breastfeeding in a store. However, that does not mean that Target is necessarily legally entitled to refuse her on the basis of her breastfeeding.

    But again, I’m not a lawyer ;)

  25. I would tend to think that the problem is with the particular store and not with the Target corp. I have worked with parents and babies for over 30 years and am in total agreement with you all. But I do have to correct some things being said. Target is very generous with the donations and grants they give out. They give away 5% of their profits, very unusual for a corp to do that much. They have laid people off in the past year, but are still giving out 5%. So, be angry at how that store handled this- it was terrible. But please do not believe that they are giving lip service when they say that they give away alot of money, because they really do– To agencies that work with families, to schools, etc.
    The Dayton family from Minneapolis started Target–when one of the Daytons was our state senator, he gave his whole salary to help fund bus trips for seniors to go to Canada to get drugs cheaper. Get a copy of their guidelines and see if any of your programs fit and then apply.

  26. I also sent an email voicing my disappointment and got *the same exact letter back*. My first impression from the letter was total insincerity and just attempt to move on. The fact it’s a form letter to the dotted i’s is just sad.

    I think I’ll send another.

    The thing is that businesses needs to be on their toes these days. Sure Target holds a lot of power, but if they abuse it we are the consumers and you don’t want to alienate nursing moms.

    If I were their public relations rep I would be bending over backwards apologizing, insisting that they would be reeducating their staff and assuring that is not their policy and they are embarrassed it happened. YOu know…like they really felt that way.

    Wasn’t there another incident a year or so ago at a different big business where the larger chains were mortified and apologized appropriately? I forget who they were.

    Thanks for bringing this up Amy.

  27. Whether or not they apologized or paid lip service to an apology, and whether or not people choose to shop at Target or not, having these kinds of conversations means something. The more we talk about breastfeeding public as something normal, and as something that should be supported, the more it will become normal and supported.

  28. It’s outrageous to me that with all the advancement’s in this country for people’s rights, that there are STILL so many people that discriminate againts Mother’s who are simply feeding their children.

    Nell

  29. Thanks so much for doing this follow-up and interviewing the woman involved in the incident. I too was confused about the language “discreet” and “escalated.” I’m glad to hear those terms addressed.

    If you missed it, there was another breastfeeding incident in MN at Target in August. It didn’t involve the police, but it was covered by our local media. I have a link to it on my facebook page if you are interested. (facebook.com/themarketingmama)

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  31. Thanks for the follow-up. It’s good to know that Target is at least part of the way toward meeting Mary’s needs regarding their actions in the aftermath of this. I have to wonder if the security guard was employed by Target directly or if Target contracts out their security personnel.

    @ Rob – It’s my understanding that Target does not allow soliciting of any kind on their property.

    The connection you are trying to make between not allowing The Salvation Army to solicit donations and the issues they currently have making sure their employees are properly trained so that breastfeeding mothers are not publicly shamed is a stretch in my opinion.

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  33. On the flip side, when my daughter was 3 weeks old we took a trip into Target in pre-Thanksgiving madness. I was a new mom recovering from a cesarean, was having breastfeeding problems and had a screaming baby wrapped up in a sling that I wasn’t 100% confident in using quite yet. I walked to the front of the store and then panicked because I was unsure of where to nurse. I hadn’t yet nursed in public, was feeling sensitive about my postpartum body, was leaking milk through my shirt and had to sit down and deal with a stupid nipple shield each time I needed to nurse. An employee saw my panic and helped me find a comfortable place to nurse. She was very kind. She didn’t even bat an eye when I told her that I needed to find a place to nurse ASAP. Since then, I’ve nursed in Target too many times to count and I’m not always a discrete nurser. I’ve never had problems there thus far. I hope corporate will stick to their word and really make an effort to focus on this as part of their training. I’m grateful to mamas like Mary who bring attention to these stupid incidents so that more corporations try to make more breastfeeding friendly environments. Fingers crossed!

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  35. I feel so thankful that in the six-plus years of nursing my three children, often in public places, I’ve never once had a negative experience. I would hope that these incidents are few and far between. They are obviously perpetuated by a few ignorant and perverted individuals. Anyone who would be offended in any way by a mother feeding her child is a moron. I’m sure most companies have a few morons working for them and I would hope that they take the time to train these people properly and take necessary disiplinary action when policies are not upheld and customers are abused.

  36. Hi Amy,
    So…just wanted to address a couple other comments in this ordeal. It doesn’t seem like you’re banning target, you said you wouldn’t be that drastic. So really the whole Tiger Woods thing was a little out of line. As a breastfeeding mother myself, I appreciate what you and Mary stand for. And yes, Target should make a better effort for apologizing. We don’t need them on World News Tonight, but it needs to be put out as much that there were many lies involved. Why is it ok for Target to spread nationwide awful lies and embarrassments, but its not ok for them to go nationwide to apologize for the same??? Ugh!! You go Amy and Mary!!!!
    I sooooo support you both!!!

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  38. I’m appalled by the actions of the security guard and the Target staff in general. I thought we mothers had made our case after the Victoria’s Secret debacle a few years ago.
    I couldn’t attend a nurse-in if there was one (my “kids” are teens and twenties), but I nursed mine and support the rights of moms to meet their babies’ feeding needs whenever and wherever they need to do so.

  39. Wow would suck! I have nursed my son in Target (in MN) a few times. I remember the first time..he was about 2 months old, I was looking for a suitcase for an upcoming trip, and he was crying. I was stressed out because I had a cart full of crap, so I just nursed him in the suitcase aisle. not soon after I started nursing a female employee walked up to me and I was thinking “oh crap-she’s gonna tell me to go someplace else” but she was super nice and said “it looks like you have your hands full–can I help you with anything”:) Fortunately I had a good experience nursing in Target and I’m sorry that Mary didn’t. I really wish people were more informed and didn’t say stupid stuff like “breastfeeding in public is illegal”.

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