In a court reversal, the case of a lactating mother takes a turn in her favor.
Donnicia Venters took maternity leave from her job with Houston Funding, where she worked as an account representative and performed her job at or above performance expectations.
As she was preparing to return from her leave, she requested permission from her supervisor to use a back room at work to pump breast milk. A company partner, however responded “…with a strong ‘NO. Maybe she needs to stay home longer.’”
The company terminated Venters for job abandonment, but fortunately for Venters, she had cell phone records and witness testimony that she was in regular communication with her supervisor and other Houston Funding staff. This demonstrated to the court that she had not abandoned her job and reinforced her case that she should be allowed to express milk at work under the law.
In its first court case, Houston Funding argued Title VII of the Civil Rights Act “prohibits various forms of employment discrimination, including discrimination on the basis of sex” but does not cover “breast pump discrimination”. The company moved for summary judgment, and the district court granted the motion. The EEOC appealed the decision, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit overturned the previous court’s judgment so Venter’s case can now proceed to trial.
The attorneys for the EEOC arguing for Venter presented significant case law that indicates that Title VII covers lactation and the expressing of breast milk.
In their finding, the Court wrote:
Because discriminating against a woman who is lactating or expressing breast milk violates Title VII and the PDA, we find that the EEOC has stated a prima facie case of sex discrimination with a showing that Houston Funding fired Venters because she was lactating and wanted to express milk at work.
Title VII prohibits discrimination based on an individual’s sex. Employees cannot be denied workplace opportunities based on characteristics unique to their sex. Lactation is a female-specific function; therefore, firing a female worker because she is lactating imposes a burden on that female worker that a comparable male employee simply could never suffer, which is sex discrimination under Title VII.