Although Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination, employers continue to practice sex discrimination, notably pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. A recent case decided by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals explored how extensive a claim of pregnancy discrimination can be and if terminating a nursing mother due to breastfeeding constitutes workplace discrimination.
In this case, Houston Funding II Ltd. terminated a female employee from her position claiming job abandonment. The female employee had taken a leave of absence to have a baby, but as a result of complications during birth she did not return to work as quickly as expected. The firm did not have a maternity leave policy. Prior to being medically cleared for work the female employee inquired about being able to use a breast pump at work. The employer advised that she would not be permitted to use it, and suggested a longer leave for the female employee.
After being medically cleared to return to work, however, the female employee informed her employer that she was still lactating and requested that she be permitted to use a back room to pump breast milk. The employer responded that her position had been filled and sent her a letter of termination. The employee filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission citing sex discrimination, particularly pregnancy discrimination in the workplace pursuant to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). This charge was dismissed by the district court holding that lactation is not a medical condition of pregnancy or childbirth protected by the PDA and, therefore, terminating employment because of lactation and breast feeding is not sex discrimination.
The case was then appealed in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal, which took the opposite stance of the district court. The appeals court found that termination due to lactating or expressing breast milk was a viable sex discrimination claim under Title VII because adverse employment actions based on these physiological occurrences puts an undue burden on women. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals further disagreed with the lower court and held that lactation is in fact a medical condition related to pregnancy for purposes of the PDA. Finally, the firm’s reasoning for termination was determined to be pre-textual and the case was remanded for trial.
Though the case does expand the protections under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act to prohibit termination of employees based on lactation, the ruling does not grant lactating employees affirmative rights to accommodations. However, types of protected activity that may give rise to a Title VII claim are now expanded to include requests related to breastfeeding accommodation. Moreover, many state laws and federal law, such as the Affordable Care Act that amended the Fair Labor Standards Act, require break time and a private area for an employee who is breastfeeding.
Philadelphia Pregnancy Discrimination Attorneys, Sidney L. Gold & Associates, Can Help Protect Your Rights
If you feel that you have experienced pregnancy discrimination in the workplace, know there is help. Contact the PA and NJ employment discrimination attorneys at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. today at 215-569-1999 or contact us online for a free assessment of yourpregnancy discrimination claim. We are conveniently located in Central CityPhiladelphia and represent the victims ofworkplace discrimination throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey.