U.S. mom detained at airport over breast-milk dispute wins $75K in lawsuit
PHOENIX – A Southern California woman who was held at a Phoenix airport four years ago after refusing to have her breast milk X-rayed said Wednesday she has reached a tentative settlement with the Transportation Security Administration.
Stacey Armato, who filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Phoenix, said TSA officials have tentatively offered her $75,000, along with promises to retrain agents and clarify its guidelines on screening breast milk.
The reassurances about revised training and rules were more important than the monetary compensation, she said.
“We had been waiting for them to really kind of confirm that they would be retraining everybody and making these policy updates,” Armato said. “When we finally got confirmation of that, that was really reassuring.”
TSA spokesman Ross Feinstein declined to comment on a “pending matter.” He confirmed that current TSA regulations classify breast milk as liquid medication. As a result, parents are permitted to bring an amount larger than the 3 ounces normally allotted for liquids.
According to the agency’s website, officers now use a bottled liquid scanner system in most airports to screen medically necessary liquids for explosives or other threats. The system uses lasers, infrared or electromagnetic resonance, rather than X-rays.
That was not an option at the time for Armato, who said she was accustomed to having a visual inspection for breast milk when travelling.
Armato, of Hermosa Beach, said she asked for an alternate screening of her breast milk at a security checkpoint at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport on Feb. 1, 2010. She cited concerns about exposing the milk to radiation.
According to a 2013 complaint from Armato, agents denied her request and then detained her in a glass enclosure for 40 minutes. Armato, who was travelling alone, alleged their action was partly retaliation for a complaint she filed over a similar incident a week earlier.
She also said officers would not let her retrieve a printout she had of the TSA rules regarding breast milk.
“It was so surreal. To have so many people of authority there acting in concert, kind of watching me stand there and cry,” Armato said. “It was just completely mind-boggling. You just feel completely helpless.”
In her complaint, Armato said the Phoenix police were called and an officer told her to do whatever was asked to avoid arrest. After an alleged “intrusive physical body inspection” and a secondary screening of the milk, Armato said she was released but missed her flight.
Rob Mosier, Armato’s attorney, said they plan to make sure the agency follows through with updates to its website.
“As far as internal procedures, I have to take them at their word that they will do that,” Mosier said.
Armato said any money she receives will go toward attorney fees and a Los Angeles non-profit that promotes breastfeeding. The mother of two said the past four years have been “absolutely worth it” if it means other breastfeeding moms won’t be intimidated to travel with breast milk.
“My kids are 4 1/2 and 3,” Armato said. “Hopefully one day we’ll have another one, and I’ll be breastfeeding, and these changes will benefit my future travels and also for other breastfeeding moms.”
© 2014 The Canadian Press