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Judge says lactation not 'pregnancy-related' - upholds firing of pregnant woman in Texas

Tuesday, February 14, 2012 by: Jonathan Benson, staff writer
Tags: lactation, pregnancy, job discrimination

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(NaturalNews) If you asked your employer for permission to use a breast pump in a private back room during your break and he responded by laying you off, would this constitute sex discrimination? One U.S. District Judge, the Honorable Judge Lynn Hughes of Houston, Tex., does not think so, nor does he believe that lactation is a valid "pregnancy-related" event, having ruled recently that a woman who was allegedly fired for requesting permission to breast pump at work was not a victim of discrimination.

Donnicia Venters had worked for Houston Funding, a debt collection agency, for several years before getting pregnant, and during her leave she says she kept in close contact with her employer. But after returning back to work and asking the company's vice president, Harry Cagle, if she could use a private room during her break time to breast pump, he allegedly told her that she was officially laid off.

"I didn't think anything was wrong," said Venters to KHOU-TV in Houston. "I'm very shocked that it did happen. I worked very hard for that company going on three years, a lot of hours. I was a good employee, and I didn't see it coming at all."

According to reports, Venters kept in very close contact with Houston Funding during the two months she was on maternity leave, as both written statements from her direct supervisor and mobile phone records confirm this to be true. But the company claims that Venters failed to keep in contact with the company, which is the excuse Venter and her lawyer say Houston Funding is using for why they essentially fired her.

When the case was taken to court by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on Venters' behalf, Robert Fleming, Venters' direct supervisor at Houston Funding, provided a signed affidavit before Judge Hughes explaining that when he talked to Cagle about Venters using the breast pump at work, he responded by saying "No. Maybe she needs to stay home longer."

Firing someone because of lactation or breast-pumping is not sex discrimination, according to Judge Hughes

But despite all the evidence that Venters was fired because of wanting to use the breast pump, and not because she had committed "job abandonment" as her company claimed, Judge Hughes ultimately sided with Houston Funding by declaring that "lactation is not pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition," which are the requirements for substantiating a sex discrimination claim.

Adding to this opinion, Judge Hughes declared that after the day Venters gave birth, "she was no longer pregnant and her pregnancy-related conditions ended." In other words, facilitating the feeding of a child once he or she is born is not a valid pregnancy-related condition in Judge Hughes' mind, even though the mother continues to lactate naturally, and this lactation is unique to women.

At this point in time, no higher-level appeals court has ever ruled on whether or not firing or laying off a woman due to breastfeeding-related issues constitutes discrimination, so no precedent has been officially set on the matter. But Venters hopes that the EEOC will appeal the ruling.

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