But a spokeswoman for Old Country Buffet’s parent company said the family was asked to leave after the dad became “verbally aggressive,” which the couple disputes.
Bethany Morton, 24, was breast-feeding 6 1/2-month-old Dawson in a booth at Old Country Buffet in Maplewood on Sunday when, she said, a server and then a manager, told her she’d have to cover up.
When she and her fiancé objected, they were told to leave and police were called.
Though state law says Morton was within her rights, a company spokeswoman says it wasn’t the breast-feeding but the commotion that caused the manager to tell the family to leave.
Minnesota law says, “A mother may breast-feed in any location, public or private, where the mother and child are otherwise authorized to be, irrespective of whether the nipple of the mother’s breast is uncovered during or incidental to the breast-feeding.”
Morton said she had a baby blanket with her, but Dawson “just won’t keep it on.”
“I decided why fight with him,” she said. “I knew my rights, so I removed the blanket and let him eat.”
She wasn’t wearing a nursing top, Morton said, but she was trying to be as discreet as possible. A man at the next table told her he didn’t know she was breast-feeding, she said.
Diana Postemsky of Kekst and Co., a New York-based public relations firm that works with Buffets Inc., the Eagan-based parent company of Old Country Buffet, said the company is “absolutely aware” of a mother’s legal right to breast-feed.
“Just to clarify,” she said, “the couple in question was asked to leave the restaurant because the fiancé became verbally aggressive, not because his fiancée was breast-feeding. The gentleman’s volume and use of profanity was disturbing the other guests.”
Morton, who was at the restaurant for Easter dinner with her fiancé, Joe Santos, and their 3-year-old, Joe Jr., called foul when told of Postemsky’s comments.
“Since when is standing up for your rights being verbally aggressive?” she asked. “He [Santos] was not aggressive at all. He didn’t even raise his voice. He’s just a loud man. He grew up in a family of six kids; obviously he has to be a little loud to be heard.”
When she called corporate headquarters, Morton said, “they sided with the store. They said it’s a ‘family establishment’ and ‘we do have the right to ask you to cover up.’
“They didn’t even offer an apology,” she said. “That’s what gets me.”
The couple were driving away when they were pulled over by a Maplewood squad. The officers, too, apparently were ignorant of the law, Morton said, and told her the statute applies to public parks, not restaurants.
Deputy Chief Dave Kvam said the 911 dispatcher’s notes say, “Old Country Buffet manager told worker to call … white female yelling at staff … white female was breast-feeding and flashing the customers.”
Kvam said if the officers were mistaken, “it’s not unreasonable to believe they might not know [the law] off the top of their head,” Kvam said. “It’s not something we deal with with any regularity.”
By PAT PHEIFER, Star Tribune