Friday, September 8, 2017
The Eleventh Circuit issued an important opinion yesterday in Hicks v. Tuscaloosa, affirming a jury verdict for a former police officer who was demoted to patrol duty just eight days after her return from maternity leave and then denied accommodations for breastfeeding, forcing her to quit.
The Fifth Circuit had previously held that lactation is a medical condition related to pregnancy so that terminations based on a woman’s need to breastfeed would violate Title VII as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. But it is the first circuit court opinion to apply the Supreme Court's decision in Young v. UPS to the accommodation issue. As the court noted, a reasonable jury could find that Hicks' request for accommodation--here reassignment to a desk job where she wouldn't have to wear a bulltproof vest that would be painful and could cause infection--was a request that she be treated the same as other officers. The department routinely assigned officers with injuries to desk jobs.
The court's analysis is fairly short and straightforward; it wastes little time concluding that lactation is related to pregnancy and thus sex under Title VII and that breastfeeding employees need to be accommodated the same way that other employees are accommodated. And the court summed up its decision concisely: "We find that a plain reading of the PDA covers discrimination against breastfeeding mothers. This holding is consistent with the purpose of PDA and will help guarantee women the right to be free from discrimination in the workplace based on gender-specific physiological occurrences."