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Woman: I Was Ejected From Courthouse Lobby For Breastfeeding

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Natalie Petrovic and her baby, Lisette. (CBS)

Natalie Petrovic and her baby, Lisette. (CBS)

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UPDATED 05/31/12 4:30 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) – A first-time mother from Skokie is suing Cook County, claiming a sheriff’s deputy violated her right to breastfeed at the Skokie Courthouse.

As WBBM Newsradio’s David Roe reports, Natalie Petrovic says the female deputy ordered her to move from the lobby to a public restroom – a demand she called both illegal and “degrading.”

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s David Roe reports

Petrovic says she was waiting to apply for food assistance benefits at the courthouse, at 5600 Old Orchard Rd. in Skokie, on April 18. She covered her infant daughter with a blanket and began nursing the girl when a female deputy approached her, the lawsuit said.

The deputy ordered Petrovic either to stop breastfeeding or move to the public bathroom. The mother says the officer addressed her in a “stern” and “bullying” way.

“When she told me this, I felt very violated,” Petrovic tells CBS 2’s Mike Puccinelli.

Illinois legislators passed the state’s Right to Breastfeed Act in 2004, which says mothers may breastfeed their babies in any public or private location where they are otherwise allowed to be, even if they aren’t modestly covered.

Petrovic said even though it was her first time trying to publicly breastfeed her daughter Lisette, then 7 weeks old, she knew women have a right to breastfeed in public — what she calls “a completely natural thing.”

It “kind of blew me” that a county employee was asking her to stop despite the state law, said Petrovic, 21, when reached at her home Wednesday night.

“It got me really frustrated that this woman, she’s a sheriff’s [deputy] and she didn’t know what people’s rights are,” she said.

She ultimately stopped because she didn’t want to risk getting kicked out of the courthouse and disrupting her application for benefits, and because feeding her baby in a public bathroom would have been “unsanitary, uncomfortable and degrading,” the suit claims.

“She stopped me from feeding my baby and that should never happen,” Petrovic said.

She says she tried to file a formal complaint against the deputy on her way out of the courthouse but couldn’t because a sheriff’s office worker, though apologetic, kept talking over her and cutting her off.

“I know a lot of women who breastfed before,” Petrovic said. “My mother breastfed me, my sister breastfed her two sons in public and this never happened to them.”

Petrovic’s attorney, Alexander Memmen, says the lawsuit is asking for attorney’s fees and for a judge to order the sheriff’s department not to interfere with breastfeeding mothers, consistent with the law.

The Cook County Sheriff’s Department declined to comment on the lawsuit and its central allegation. But in a written statement, spokesman Frank Bilecki says the woman was observed breastfeeding in the building for an hour or more.

“The Sheriff’s Office is proud of the fact that it administers many public buildings, including hundreds of court rooms and has never had such an allegation,” Bilecki said.

Despite the state law permitting breastfeeding, the act still draws consternation – and even threats to call police – from some people.

In a well-documented case back in September 2009, Lauren Trost, 33, was breastfeeding her 7-month-old son, Hank, in Giddings Plaza in the Lincoln Square neighborhood, when another woman walked up and threatened to call police. The woman told Trost breastfeeding in public was “indecent.”

In response, dozens of mothers gathered in the plaza a short time later for a nurse-in, protesting the threat.

Petrovic’s lawsuit suit seeks an injunction preventing courthouse staff from denying any other women their right to breastfeed there, plus attorney’s fees and the costs of the suit.

A Cook County Sheriff’s office spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Petrovic’s lawsuit Wednesday night.

The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.

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