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Bryant Whitten, LLP

Federal judge rules firing over pumping breast milk not workplace discrimination

A federal judge recently ruled that the firing of a mother who wanted to pump breast milk at work was not considered workplace discrimination. The ruling was made in the context of the new national health care legislation which in part allows mothers the opportunity to nurse at work.

In 2008, the mother took maternity leave to give birth to her now 3-year-old daughter. Over her 10-week time away from work, she kept in close contact with her employer and informed her employer during her leave time that she wanted to pump breast milk at work while on break. The mother wanted to gain her employer's permission to do so before returning to work.

The working mother was under the impression that her supervisor was "fine" with her request, but when her supervisor approached higher-ups about the issue of pumping breast milk at work, upper management responded with a negative reaction. Those higher up in the company said the mother probably, "need[ed] to stay home longer." When the working mother confronted her employer about having the opportunity to pump breast milk at work, the employer fired her.

At court, the company argued the woman abandoned her job, and the woman argued the company unlawfully discriminated against her. A federal judge ruled against the woman and explained that because lactation is not pregnancy-related, the firing was not sex discrimination. Other federal district courts have made similar rulings, but no appeals court has made a ruling on the issue.

Under current law, pregnant women are protected from being fired for having a child. Arguments regarding lactation have centered around whether it is a "pregnancy-related condition." The woman's attorney is likely to seek appeal of the decision.

Source: USA Today, "Judge: Firing for lactation not sex discrimination," Feb. 10, 2012

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