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Court rules firing based on lactation is sex discrimination under Title VII, PDA

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

The EEOC has won a major case in its ongoing efforts to help lactating women who want to return to work. The 5th Circuit has accepted the commission’s interpretation that firing a woman who needs a place to express milk at work is both sex discrimination under Title VII and violates the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) because lactation is related to pregnancy.

Recent case: Donnicia worked for a company too small to be covered by the FMLA. It had no formal maternity or paternity leave policies. She did arrange for time off to give birth and recover and regularly kept in touch with the company during her time off.

Donnicia’s doctors gave her the all-clear to return to work following a C-section. She called in and asked if there was a place where she could express milk for her baby. In response, she received an indignant and emphatic “No!”—and was then told she no longer had a job.

The EEOC sued on her behalf, arguing that being discharged because one lactates is both sex discrimination under Title VII and pregnancy-related discrimination under the PDA.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed and ordered a trial. (EEOC v. Houston Funding, No. 12-20220, 5th Cir., 2013)

Final note: Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, employers may also be required to provide a place for lactating women to express milk that is not the em­­ployee bathroom, as well as time off to do so. See the DOL's guidance on handling break time for nursing mothers.

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