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Is Lactation Discrimination A Pregnancy-Related Condition?

A Texas court didn’t think so. A Houston-area woman was fired after she asked her employer if she could use a private room to pump breast milk at work. She sued, claiming sex discrimination, but the judge did not agree.

“Firing someone because of lactation or breast-pumping is not sex discrimination,” noted the federal court judge. The judge also noted that because the woman had given birth, she was no longer pregnant and so lactation could not be considered a pregnancy-related condition, which would have entitled Donnicia Venters to protection under existing federal law.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) does not agree with the ruling and is appealing the decision. Pumping breast milk at work, and being prohibited from or fired for doing so “imposes a burden on a female worker that a comparable male employee simply could never suffer,” asserts the EEOC.

Current federal law related to workplace lactation includes:

  • Title VII prohibits employment discrimination based on a person’s gender.
  • The Pregnancy Discrimination Act prevents discrimination based on “pregnancy, childbirth or medical or related medical conditions.”
  • The Fair Labor Standards Act was amended in 2010 to require employers to allow employees a reasonable amount of time to pump breast milk each day for a year after giving birth.

Venters was fired in 2009, before the FLSA requirements related to pumping at work were enacted.

California offers greater protections to female employees than current federal law. Lactation is listed as a protected pregnancy-related condition in the Department of Fair Employment and Housing regulations.

Source: Workforce, “‘Great Texas Lactation Case’ Debates Whether Breast-Milk Pumping Is a Pregnancy-Related Condition,” August 23, 2012

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