A federal judge in Texas recently ruled that a new mother does not have the right to pump breast milk at work. (EEOC v. Houston Funding II, Ltd.; no. H-11-2422; S. D. Texas). The facts in Houston Funding are straightforward. The plaintiff gave birth to a baby girl in December 2008, after which she took maternity leave. While the plaintiff claimed that she had been in contact with her employer throughout her leave, her employer claimed that she had abandoned her position. After the plaintiff failed to return to work in February 2009, her employer terminated her (apparently without notifying the plaintiff). After the termination, the plaintiff contacted a vice-president of the company, informed him that she was ready to return to work, and asked if she could use a back room to pump milk. The vice-president informed her that the company assumed that she had quit and had filled her spot.
The EEOC alleged that the company fired the plaintiff because she wanted to pump breast milk at the office. The trial judge disagreed. While acknowledging that discrimination due to childbirth, pregnancy or a related medical condition was illegal, the judge ruled that any pregnancy related condition necessarily ended once the plaintiff gave birth. Thus, “the law does not punish lactation discrimination.” Employers should expect that this is not the last word on the subject.