Last week, a federal judge in Houston granted summary judgment to an employer being sued by an employee for pregnancy discrimination. Specifically, the former employee alleged that she was terminated after asking if she would be able to use a back room to express milk when she returned from maternity leave. The court found that lactation was not a medical condition covered by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. The court relied on several other federal district court cases in reaching that decision. The Court’s decision was based on
the narrow interpretation that “lactation is not pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition.”
Interestingly, this Houston District Court decision is the only one since the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act which amended the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) to require employers to provide reasonable break times for employees to express breast milk. While this law does not provide protection from termination to employees who seek to express milk at their site of employment, the ability to breaks during the workday to express milk is meaningless if an employer can simply terminate an employee for making the request.
Courts appear to be very narrowly interpreting Title VII in this instance. Stay tuned to see if the 5th Circuit is asked to review this decision or Congress decides to intervene.