The 5th Circuit unanimously reversed a well-publicized lower court's ruling in a sex discrimination case and held for the first time that lactation is related to pregnancy and, therefore, covered by Title VII and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). See EEOC v. Houston Funding II, +2013 U.S. App. LEXIS 10933. Employers may need to implement or revisit workplace equal employment opportunity policies, including those relating to pregnancy, to ensure consistency with this decision.
Title VII prohibits various forms of sex discrimination, and provides that sex discrimination encompasses different treatment based on pregnancy, childbirth or related conditions. The EEOC claimed that a female employee was let go after mentioning that she was lactating and asking whether she could use a back room to express milk. The employer claimed that the employee had been fired for job abandonment. However, the employer argued that even if the employee could prove her case, Title VII does not cover what it termed "breast pump discrimination."
The Court rejected the employer's argument, confirming that bodily conditions related to pregnancy, such as lactation, are covered by Title VII's sex discrimination provisions. However, the Court explicitly stated that it was not addressing whether the female employee was entitled to special accommodations for breastfeeding or for using a breast pump at work.
The parties to the case will return to the lower court for trial.
This case highlights the fact that preventing discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions is a top priority for the EEOC as part of its Strategic Enforcement Plan.
"Bumpy" Road Ahead: A Prudent Employer's Guide to Pregnancy Discrimination Laws