Terminating an employee for use of a breast pump violates Title VII says 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Employment Opportunity Commission v. Houston Funding II Ltd, et al., No. 12-20220 (5th Cir. May 30, 2013).

This is a sex discrimination case under Title VII in which the EEOC was a party. The essential holding is that an employer cannot discriminate against a woman who chooses to use a breast pump at work.

Employee Venters, a collector for Houston Funding, took maternity leave in 2008. When she attempted to return, she told Houston Funding she wanted to use a breast pump at work.  Her supervisor allegedly then told her that her position had been filled and she had been terminated.  She filed an EEOC charge for gender discrimination. The EEOC determined there was discrimination and sued on her behalf. The trial court granted Houston Funding’s motion for summary judgment and the EEOC appealed. Houston Funding argued Title VII did not preclude this type of employment action since lactation is not a “medical condition” under the Act.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that terminating an employee for lactating or expressing milk is a gender based discrimination. The court held “[a]n adverse employment action motivated by these factors clearly imposes upon women a burden that male employees need not—indeed, could not—suffer.” Lactation is the physiological process directly associated with pregnancy and childbirth and is therefore a medical condition.  Based on these holdings the grant of Houston Funding’s summary judgment was error as a there are triable factual disputes precluding it.  The Fifth Circuit vacated the order and remanded back to the trial court.

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