The Douglasville woman who said she was asked to leave Applebee's for breast-feeding has hired an attorney to represent her, and has started a Facebook page for supporters, calling for a Nurse-In at Applebee's restaurants nationwide Sept. 29.
Dawn Holland has accused the restaurant on U.S. Highway 278 of violating her civil rights when they reportedly asked her to leave because she was breast-feeding her 20-month-old son, around 2:15 p.m. Saturday.
She said she stopped in for a late lunch and asked to sit in the back because she knew it was her son's nap time and he would need to nurse. Holland admitted that she was not covered with anything, but said that her son would not allow himself to be covered, and that he was big enough to keep her from being exposed. She also said there were only about five couples in the restaurant at the time. It was then that Holland said the manager approached her and said she needed to excuse herself to the bathroom.
"I knew why," Holland said. "And I told her I had a right to breast-feed in public and that a bathroom was not an appropriate place to nurse my son. She said to either excuse myself to the bathroom or leave."
Holland said she did not leave initially, but told the manager she needed to look up the law.
"I told her that if she thought I was breaking the law, she should call the police, and she did."
Holland said she called the police as well, and spoke to them outside of the restaurant, a fact Covington police Captain Ken Malcom confirmed, though an incident report was not made. Police also spoke with the manager, who said she told Holland she could either cover up, go to the bathroom, or leave. Holland denies she was ever given the option of covering herself while nursing.
Although Georgia law says that a private business, even if open to the public, has a right to ask anyone to leave and they are required to go or face charges of trespassing, breast-feeding is a protected activity in Georgia, and that trumps trespassing laws.
Georgia code states "the breast-feeding of a baby is an important and basic act of nurture which should be encouraged in the interests of maternal and child health and allows a mother to breastfeed her baby in any location where mother and baby are otherwise authorized to be."
Holland said her pediatrician encouraged her to breast-feed until the age of 2, and pointed out that in most countries, mothers breastfeed until the age of 3 or older.
"It's about a woman's right to choose what is best for her child and not be humiliated in public for it. I was extremely embarrassed and humiliated. It has really been quite an ordeal for me."
Holland's attorney Laurie Rashidi of the Rashidi Law Firm in Marietta said that while they had not decided to sue the restaurant chain, Holland was "considering her options."
"Applebee's has not yet responded with an apology... Although they have addressed the media, they have not made any direct communication with us. I think right now, there are a lot of options," Rashidi said, adding that Holland's civil rights had been violated. "Even if you do have a concern, certainly calling the police shouldn't be the first line of action."
"There are a lot of women really supporting this because they feel like they have the right to make the choice about their children and their children's nutrition," Holland said. "My main goal is to raise awareness and educate - not only businesses, but the community in general. Breast-feeding is not disgraceful and should not be considered as such. You wouldn't eat your lunch on a toilet, why should you expect a child to do the same?"
Holland created a Facebook page earlier this week and has used it to call other women to action for a nurse-in. A scheduled appearance on the Dr. Drew earlier this week was canceled, and on the page, Holland admits that Applebee's did try to contact her from a private number, but that was after her attorney had directed all contact with Holland come through her.
Applebee's issued a statement earlier, saying "We're in the business of welcoming guests to our restaurants and our top priority is always to provide a friendly and comfortable environment for everyone, including nursing mothers who have the right to nurse in public. This was an unfortunate misunderstanding and we hope the guest will give us another chance to demonstrate that to her personally."