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HOUSTON—Lactation discrimination is not sex discrimination, said a federal judge in upholding the termination of a woman who claims she was fired because she asked for accommodations to breast-feed her baby.
According to last Thursday's decision by the federal district court in Houston in Equal Employment Opportunity Commission vs. Houston Funding II Ltd., Donnicia Venters took a leave of absence in December 2008 to have her baby girl. She did not discuss with anyone about how long she would be gone, or when she expected to return. On Feb. 10, 2009, several employees including a vp, decided to fire Ms. Venters, effective three days later, although no written record of the meeting is available, according to the opinion by Judge Lynn N. Hughes.
Ms. Venters, who suffered from an infection after the birth that complicated her recovery, according to the ruling, left the vp a message by phone on Feb. 16, telling him she had her doctor's approval to return to work. “The next day, she called (the vp) to tell him that she was ready to return to work and wondered if she could use a back room to pump milk,” said the ruling. She was told her spot had been filled because they had not heard from her. She subsequently received a letter telling her she was fired for job abandonment.
The EEOC “says the company fired her because she wanted to pump breast milk,” says the brief opinion.
According to the ruling, “Even if the county's claim that she was fired for abandonment is meant to hide the real reason—she wanted to pump breast milk—lactation is not pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition. She gave birth on Dec. 11, 2008. After that day, she was no longer pregnant, and her pregnancy-related conditions had ended.”
“Firing someone because of lactation or breast pumping is not sex discrimination.... Even if Venters' claims are true, the law does not punish lactation discrimination,” the ruling said.