The Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals agrees with TMA and the Texas Pediatric Society (TPS) that a Houston federal judge wrongfully ruled against a woman who says her employer fired her because she wanted to pump breast milk. The court said "discriminating against a woman who is lactating or expressing breast milk" violates federal law. It overturned the decision and sent the case back to the trial court for further proceedings.
TMA and TPS said in a brief to the appeals court that U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes erred when he ruled that childbirth ends pregnancy-related medical conditions and that Title VII of federal law does not protect women from being discriminated against or fired for lactation and breast pumping.
TMA and TPS filed the brief to support an appeal by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) of Judge Hughes' decision in favor of a Houston debt collection agency against the woman, Donnicia Venters. EEOC charged that Houston Funding II Ltd. fired Ms. Venters after she sought approval to pump breast milk at the office. Judge Hughes ruled that even if that were true, Ms. Venters could not claim discrimination under Title VII because lactation is not pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition.
TMA and TPS argue in their brief that federal law protects lactation because it is one of several medical conditions related to pregnancy that require care after childbirth. "Since the yielding of milk by mammary glands is a medical condition caused by pregnancy and childbirth, lactation is a 'related medical condition' as contemplated by Title VII," the brief said.
"Title VII protects employees from being fired 'because of sex' or 'on the basis' of sex," it added. "Congress amended Title VII, in response to a Supreme Court case, to clarify that those terms 'include, but are not limited to, because of or on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.' It is clear that Congress intends to protect women, such as Venters, from being fired based on medical conditions relating to their pregnancy and/or childbirth."
The brief also says breastfeeding benefits both the mother and child and that public policy demands protection for lactating mothers at work. Thus, TMA and TPS said, a jury should decide whether Houston Funding discriminated against Ms. Venters, or, as the company claims, it fired her for abandoning her job.
Action, June 3, 2013