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Court Rules That Breastfeeding at Work Is a Protected Civil Right


The Fifth Circuit has ruled in favor of a woman who was fired because she requested an appropriate place to pump at work. Her boss’ actions have been found in violation of the employee’s Title VII rights to be free from sex discrimination.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. This includes hiring, promotion, discharge, pay, fringe benefits, job training, classification, referral, and any other aspect of employment.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) was passed as an amendment to Title VII in 1978. It prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of pregnancy.

The National Law Review reports on the ground-breaking case of Donnicia Venters who worked for a private company in Houston, Texas. While her employer, Houston Funding, has no maternity leave policy, Venters had an agreement with her supervisor that after having her baby she would return to work “as soon as possible.”

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She gave birth in December of 2008 via C-section. Due to complications with the surgery, she was unable to return to work until February of 2009. She was in constant communication with her supervisor during this time. At one point she asked if she could bring her breast pump to work; her supervisor asked the manager, Harry Cagle, who responded, “No. Perhaps she should stay home longer.”

When Venters’ doctor released her to return to work, she spoke on the telephone with Cagle and asked if she could use the back room to pump milk. After a pause, Cagle responded that Venters’ position had been filled.

Venters filed suit, and the district court agreed with the defendant that there is not “breast-pump discrimination” clause in Title VII. Fortunately, the Fifth Circuit agreed with Venters on appeal.

Thanks to the Fifth Circuit, the right to breastfeed at work is protected on the same level as the right to be pregnant or even the right to be female and employed at the same time. If you need to pump milk at work, simply request a private place in which you may do so. You have a right to be treated with dignity and respect as a working, breastfeeding mother.

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(Photo Credit: Wha’ppen/Flickr)

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