Judge Lynn Hughes in Houston recently decided that a mother can be fired for wanting to pump breast milk at work, claiming that lactation is in no way related to “Pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition.” This case came about after Donnicia Venters gave birth and was ultimately fired from her job at Houston Funding after asking to use the bathroom to pump milk, although the company claims they fired Venters for abandonment. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a complaint on behalf of Venters against Houston Funding, noting that the company violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which makes it illegal to discriminate against a woman “Because of pregnancy, childbirth, or a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth.” Not that the suit helped. In fact, the case didn’t even make it to court. Judge Hughes dismissed the lawsuit and wrote in the opinion, “Firing someone because of lactation or breast-pumping is not sex discrimination.” Judge Hughes goes on to say that Venters, “Gave birth on December 11, 2008. After that day, she was no longer pregnant and her pregnancy-related conditions ended.” Thus, the Judge wrote, “Even if Venters’s claims are true, the law does not punish lactation discrimination.” Well… score one for shady companies. Score zero for babies and mamas.
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This is an appalling case on so many levels that it’s hard to know where to start. Am I more distressed that this poor mama had to ask to sneak into a bathroom (a bathroom!) to pump milk for her child or that this company was given a green light to fire any mom who breastfeeds? It’s a sick conundrum for sure. Had this case been allowed to see the light of day in a courtroom, I’m quite sure someone would have been able to prove that indeed lactation IS a condition of pregnancy and childbirth. How often do you see men or women who haven’t given birth running around lactating? Oh yeah, you don’t. Women lactate because of hormones slows and surges that are directly connected to pregnancy and birth. Last I checked, hormone issues were considered medical in nature, not to mention, breast milk is promoted as the best, most healthy food for babies by almost every health organization in the world. Also last I checked, pregnancy, and its stages were directly related to sex (in most cases). How on earth someone could claim breast milk isn’t medically related to mama and baby is beyond me. Of course, after birth you can stop those milk producing hormones by refusing to breastfeed, thus halting the breastfeeding condition, so I guess Venters’ baby is totally at fault for wanting food – darn baby!
Could This Happen to You?
Yes, it sure could. This court decision was decided just last week and based on 2008 laws. Since then, Congress has instated some flimsy laws to protect nursing mothers, but there are some major exceptions to this protection, for example, if you work for an employer with fewer than 50 employees. On top of that, only twenty-four states have any sort of workplace breastfeeding laws on the books. Those states by the way include Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wyoming. If you’re pregnant, now is the time to learn about your breastfeeding rights, both in your state and in your workplace. You need to be prepared, especially with judges like Hughes around. Hughes had the chance to make a huge statement about the rights of mothers and babies with this case, but decided to go the other way. Until the legal system sees fit to protect the rights of families over big companies and profits, you are at a disadvantage. Read the The Business Case For Breastfeeding: Employee’s Guide to Breastfeeding and Working (pdf) for help and advice.
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