The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has overturned a lower district court in Texas holding that firing a woman because she is lactating or expressing milk is unlawful sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978). The case was filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on behalf of Donnica Venters who claimed that she was fired after giving birth once she inquired as to whether she would be able to pump breast milk when she returned to her job. The EEOC sued, alleging that the employer, Houston Funding II, LLC, engaged in sex discrimination. The district court dismissed the lawsuit (EEOC v. Houston Funding II LLC, No. 4:11-CV-2442) on a motion for summary judgment. Following that decision, the EEOC appealed to the Fifth Circuit (EEOC v. Houston Funding II LLC, No. 12-20220).
The lower district court, in granting summary judgment, held "lactation is not pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition," and thus decided that "firing someone because of lactation or breast-pumping is not sex discrimination." The district court suggested that "pregnancy-related conditions" ended on the day that a mother gives birth. In overturning the lower district court and finding this amounted to sex discrimination under Title VII, the 5th Circuit stated that the biological fact that lactation is a physiological condition distinct to women who have undergone a pregnancy. Accordingly, under Title VII and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, firing a woman because she is lactating or expressing milk is unlawful sex discrimination, since men as a matter of biology could not be fired for such a reason. The case was remanded back to the lower court for a trial on the merits.
The EEOC's press release on the case can be found here