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Court Rules Request to Pump Breast Milk at Place of Employment Not Pregnancy or Sex Discrimination

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for above-the-bar-logo.jpgA federal judge in Houston recently ruled that it was not sex discrimination where a woman was fired because she asked for a place to pump her breast milk. The Judge’s ruling stated that “lactation is not pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition.” Other district courts in the country have also issued similar rulings. However, this issue has not been ruled on by any higher level appeals courts.

The woman who was fired over this issue, Donnicia Venters, worked for Houston Funding as an account representative for about 3 years and had even earned a promotion. Venters took maternity leave in December 2008 and gave birth to her now 3 year old daughter. According to cell phone records and her former supervisors’ statements, Venters kept in close touch with her employer during her 10 week maternity leave. While she was on leave, she told her direct supervisor at least twice, that she wanted to pump milk while on her break, and asked him to get permission from their boss, Vice President Harry Cagle.

Venters’ supervisor, Fleming, stated in an affidavit that when he told Cagle about Venters request, he responded “No. Maybe she needs to stay home longer.” Ventors stated that when she told Cagle she wanted to pump breast milk in a back room during breaks, his “demeanor changed. He paused for a few seconds and said, ‘I’m sorry. We’ve laid you off.”

Houston Funding argued during the lawsuit that it fired Venters because she did not keep in contact with the company and didn’t come back to work as scheduled. The EEOC argued that Venters spoke to her supervisor at least once a week during her maternity leave and that Houston Funding’s allegation that she was fired for “job abandonment” was a “pretext for unlawful discrimination.”

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate against employees because of their sex, including pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions.

President Obama’s health care law talks about breast feeding and requires employers to give mothers a break to nurse. However, if a woman asks to pump breast milk, it does not specifically protect her from getting fired. The laws intent was to get nursing mothers back to work and allow them to continue nursing for its health benefits. The law gives you break time to nurse, but it does not protect you from getting fired when you take that break to pump breast milk.

According to several federal district court rulings, lactation discrimination is not illegal. Obama’s health care law is quite useless if it provides you with a break to pump breast milk but doesn’t protect you from getting fired for doing so. The EEOC has not yet decided whether it will appeal the Court’s decision. Clearly, the health care law on this issue needs to be amended or the courts need to interpret the law using common sense. If its illegal to discriminate based on pregnancy, then discrimination based on lactation should follow. Lactation is a “related medical condition” to pregnancy.

Although lactation discrimination is not currently prohibited, discrimination based on pregnancy is illegal. If you or anyone you know has suffered from discrimination based on pregnancy or a related issue, call our Discrimination Attorneys at Villanueva & Sanchala at (800) 893-9645 to help you protect your workplace rights.

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