Update: The EEOC in May 2012 filed an appeal to the federal court of appeals seeking a reversal of this decision, arguing that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and Title VII protect women from being fired for lactation and breast pumping.
U.S. District Judge Lynn N. Hughes, of Houston, TX, has ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not prevent an employer from firing a new mother because she asks for permission to pump breast milk in a back office for her newborn.
In other words, Judge Hughes said, Title VII, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, does not prevent employers from engaging in “lactation discrimination.”
In a finding that may come as a surprise to mothers everywhere, Judge Hughes states in his Feb. 2, 2012 decision in EEOC v. Houston Funding II, Ltd, et al, (Civil Action No. 4:11-cv-02442) that “lactation is not pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition.”
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) had sued the debt collection firm — Houston Funding II, Ltd., and Houston Funding Corporation — for firing a worker who had taken less than a three-month maternity leave in 2009. She had experienced complications from a C-section. Although Houston Funding had been holding her job open for her, the EEOC said the company changed its mind after she asked upper management if she could express milk in a back office upon her return.
Judge Hughes said the dismissal did not violate not violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees and job applicants because of their sex (including pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions).
After plaintiff gave birth, Judge Hughes said, “she was no longer pregnant and her pregnancy-related conditions ended.”
FYI – Judge Hughes, who was appointed by the late President Ronald Reagan in 1985, says discrimination because of pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical may include cramping, dizziness, and nausea while pregnant.
Donnicia Venters, who had worked for the company since 2006, gave birth to a daughter on Dec. 11, 2008. Venters informed the company that her doctor said she could not return to work until an infection resulting from a C-Section healed. Shortly before her expected return, she asked upper management if she could express milk in a back office upon her return.
Houston Funding maintained that it fired Venters because of “job abandonment.”
According to the website www.houstonfunding.com, Houston Funding “is a company which purchases charged-off debt portfolios nationwide from most large institutions.”