Medical Condition or Childcare Choice? Breastfeeding and Lactation Discrimination After Young v. UPS


Women returning to work after giving birth, and who wish to breastfeed their child often need modest adjustments to their job or workplace that allow them to pump breast milk at work, such as break time and a clean, private room. But what if an employer denies this request or fires a woman for asking? The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”) prohibits employers from discriminating against workers based on their pregnancy, childbirth, or “related medical conditions.” Under the PDA, as interpreted by the Supreme Court in Young v. UPS, employers must grant pregnant workers accommodations only if they grant similar accommodations to non-pregnant workers, such as workers suffering from off-the-job injuries. This means a pregnant worker who is unable to prove that her employer accommodates non-pregnant or non-pumping workers is not entitled to an accommodation under the PDA. In addition, many courts have found that breastfeeding and lactation are not “medical conditions” related to pregnancy and thus not protected under the PDA at all. This narrow view of the PDA has resulted in continued barriers to fair and equal treatment of women in the workplace, forcing mothers to choose between breastfeeding and keeping their job.

In recent years, some federal courts have rejected the limited reading of the PDA that excludes lactation claims, indicating a movement toward a more inclusive and progressive judicial standard. In addition, a patchwork of local, state, and federal laws has sprung up to fill the gaps in protections for pumping workers. But these laws do not go far enough. Federal law, in the form of the 2010 ACA amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act, is a step in the right direction but lacks a clear enforcement mechanism. Local and state accommodation laws provide useful frameworks for how a clear federal standard might look but leave out workers in nearly two-thirds of states. This Article argues and proposes suggestions for a robust federal Pregnant Worker’s Fairness Act that would require all employers to grant workers reasonable accommodations related to pregnancy, childbirth, lactation, and other related conditions.

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