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Wisconsin's breast-feeding moms targets of discrimination at work?

Wisconsin women are protected from pregnancy discrimination under several federal employment laws. In fact, 25 years ago Congress amended Title VII in order to outlaw pregnancy discrimination. Not quite as long ago, back in 1993, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act required employers to provide employees with unpaid leave for certain medical and family reasons, including childbirth. And, finally, in 2010 The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act amended the Fair Labor Standards Act to require employers to provide break time for mothers to pump breast milk for a nursing child.

However, the question of whether breast-feeding mothers are protected by anti-workplace discrimination statutes remains unanswered in some respects. In a current case that is making its way through the court system in the south, a woman alleges that her employer actually fired her because she was breast-feeding.

The woman says that she was fired in 2008 after she asked her boss if she could use space in a back room to pump breast milk after returning from maternity leave.

The woman sued her employer, a debt collection agency, after her termination, alleging sex discrimination. However, a federal judge ruled that firing someone due to lactation is not sex discrimination and thus the woman cannot sue. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has now appealed the ruling to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

Although the woman was fired before the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 went into effect, many say that lactation discrimination is in fact sex discrimination, and that lactation is a pregnancy-related condition that should be lended protection under The Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

In California, the Department of Fair Employment and Housing has officially listed lactation as a pregnancy-related condition in order to clear up any confusion.

The court's decision could determine whether lactation is given protection under Title VII. For now, it is important for employers to comply with the Fair Labor Standards Act rule and for expecting mothers and new mothers to consult employment law attorneys about their rights if they feel threatened.

Source: Workforce.com, "'Great Texas Lactation Case' Debates Whether Breast-Milk Pumping Is a Pregnancy Related Condition," Matthew Heller, Aug. 23, 2012

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