Is Lactating A Medical Condition Of Pregnancy?

In an attempt to avoid charges of discrimination under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, a Houston area employer argued that lactation was “not a medically related condition of pregnancy.” The appellate court flatly rejected this argument, stating “It is undisputed in this appeal that lactation is a physiological result of being pregnant and bearing a child.”

The Houston pregnancy discrimination and sex discrimination case was filed after a collections company fired a woman because she was lactating and asked if she could express milk at work. The woman complained to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which agreed that subjecting a female employee to an adverse employment action because she is lactating or expressing breast milk “clearly imposes upon women a burden that male employees need not-indeed, could not-suffer” and thus would violate Title VII.

If your employer takes negative employment actions against you as the result of pregnancy, lactation and nursing you may have a legal claim. In order to determine the best steps for you to take, it is a good idea to speak to an experienced Atlanta employment discrimination attorney right away.

Two different provisions prohibit discrimination against women who are pregnant. One law is the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). The PDA prohibits discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions. Although this doesn’t mean that pregnant women are entitled to special treatment, it does mean that pregnant women must be treated equally to non-pregnant individuals. Another provision is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, and religion.

In EEOC v. Houston Funding II., the court looked specifically at whether lactation discrimination was a form of sex discrimination.

In this situation, a female account representative took a leave of absence to have her baby. The company, Houston Funding, didn’t have a maternity policy, and the woman was not provided a firm date that she needed to return to work, only that she come back as soon as her doctor released her. She suffered complications from her C-section, and stayed out of work from December 2008 until mid-February 2009. After returning to work, she asked if it was okay to pump at work. Her supervisor said “no.” When the question was posed to another partner, he also said “No” and that maybe “she needs to stay home longer.” When she returned a few days later with a medical release and indicated that she was still lactating, the woman was told that her position had been filled.

The employer argued that even assuming her allegations were true, that Title VII doesn’t cover “breast pump discrimination” so she didn’t have a case. The Court specifically rejected this reasoning and plainly stated: discharging a female employee because she is lactating or expressing breast milk constitutes sex discrimination in violation of Title VII.

The EEOC applauded this decision noting, “Pregnancy discrimination is something that the EEOC takes seriously and sees far too often…we are gratified that the Fifth Circuit gave plain meaning to the words of the [PDA] and ruled …that discrimination on the basis of lactation is discrimination on the basis of sex.”

For more information or if you have faced discrimination as a nursing mother, please contact the top Georgia sex discrimination lawyers at Buckley Bala Wilson Mew LLP for an immediate case evaluation.