As part of our ongoing Five Questions series highlighting local maternal/infant health champions, we are honored to feature Jessica Lee!
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What drew you to the field you’re in?
As long as I can remember I’ve been passionate about reproductive justice. A huge piece of that is the freedom to have children and still be safe and secure. I use the law to fight for economic justice and reproductive justice, in hopes that one day no one will have to choose between their family and their livelihood.
What part of your daily work inspires you the most?
My work keeping pregnant students in their studies inspires me the most. Students reach out to my Pregnant Scholar helpline after being told they have no choice but to drop out because they are pregnant. Thankfully, the law is on their side and I am able to coach them through the process to stay in school and get the support they need. Seeing those students graduate and have their dreams become a reality is a feeling beyond words.
How can RVA keep moving forward to become a model community for childbearing families?
Our community has done an amazing job finding ways to support childbearing families. In the future I hope we can do more to remove the systemic barriers that hurt our families. Especially in this desperate time of COVID-19, that means demanding those in power safeguard families’ most basic needs like income, food and housing.
If you could share one piece of wisdom with childbearing families or professionals who serve them, what would it be?
I always encourage folks to trust their gut and ask (or demand) help as soon as they feel something is wrong. That said, I hope professionals will be proactive and not just wait for a cry for help. We ask so much of our childbearing families! I hope we can solve more problems before they’re a crisis. And when we can’t, we need to meet folks where they are and stay with them until they’re where they want to be.
Tell us about one of your favorite accomplishments.
In 2020, I was one of the advocates who championed a law to provide workplace accommodations for pregnancy and related conditions in Virginia. Because of the new law, pregnant employees are now entitled to changes at work to stay healthy. Examples include changes in job duties, lifting restrictions, working from home, pumping breaks and even leave. Virginia’s new law is one of the strongest in the nation, and I’m excited to see it make work safer.
Jessica Lee is a Staff Attorney at the Center for WorkLife Law. She works to advance gender equality in the workplace and in education, and is a nationally recognized expert on discrimination related to pregnancy and breastfeeding. Lee co-manages the Center’s COVID-19 Worker Helpline, which was launched in the Spring of 2020 to provide legal information to workers nationwide who are facing difficulties at work due to the pandemic and related caregiving challenges.
Lee’s advocacy focuses on empowering pregnant and breastfeeding students, working parents, and their advocates by providing the legal, policy, and strategic tools they need to overcome and dismantle structural barriers. She has provided know-your-rights resources and training on workplace supports for breastfeeding to thousands of healthcare providers and public health practitioners. Lee also seeks to prevent discrimination by working with institutions to draft and implement family responsive policies.
Lee’s writing has been featured in publications ranging from The Chronicle of Higher Education and the Harvard Business Review to the journals Breastfeeding Medicine and Midwifery and Women’s Health. She is a co-author of the recent study, Exposed: Discrimination Against Breastfeeding Workers, with Joan C. Williams and Liz Morris.
Lee earned her J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law and her B.A. from Virginia Commonwealth University.