Appeals Court Tells Texas Judge that, Actually, Moms Can't Be Fired for Breastfeeding

DonniciaVenters.jpg
Via ABC News
Donnicia Venters
Congress didn't explicitly reference lactation when it passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act in 1978. It merely said that employers can't fire or punish women because of "pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions," which would seem to encompass the postpartum activation of the mammary glands.

U.S. District Judge Lynn D. Hughes (who is, for the record, a dude), didn't see it that way. Last year, he issued a ruling in the case of Donnicia Venter who, with the backing of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, claims she was fired after twice requesting to pump breast milk at work.

"Firing someone because of lactation or breast-pumping is not sex discrimination," Hughes wrote, granting employer Houston Funding's motion for summary judgment. That's because, according to Hughes, lactation is not a medical condition of pregnancy.

See also
Texas Moms Kept From Breastfeeding in Public Could Soon Have the Right to Sue
State Rep. Wants Nursing Moms to Be "Modest and Respectful," Inspires Facebook Backlash
Fort Worth Advice Columnist Pisses off Nursing Moms by Saying Breastfeeding in Church Is Icky

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans is scratching its head at that one. A three-judge panel recently overturned Hughes' ruling after turning to the authoritative legal text known as the dictionary (Collins English Dictionary -- Complete and Unabridged, 2003 edition) and concluding, "Lactation is the physiological process of secreting milk from mammary glands and is directly caused by hormonal changes associated with pregnancy and childbirth."

There's also some precedent for a broad interpretation of the "related medical conditions" clause of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. The court cites one example in which a company was found to have violated the law for requiring new mothers "to have sustained a normal menstrual cycle before they can return to work."

Venters' case is a strong one, the Fifth Circuit's ruling suggests. She'd worked for Houston Funding for two-and-a-half years when she took maternity leave in December 2008. It was a difficult pregnancy, a C-section, and her doctor didn't clear her for two months. When she called Houston Funding partner Harry Cagle on February 17 to tell him she was ready to get back to work, he said her position had been filled.

The company's stated reason for firing Venters was job abandonment. It said it made the decision on February 13 after failing to hear from her in two months.

The appeals court points out that there are some inconsistencies in Houston Funding's account. There was the termination letter, which was ostensibly written on and dated February 16 but wasn't mailed until February 20, three days after Venters had spoken to Cagle. Then there was the fact that Venters' cell phone records showed she had spent 115 minutes on the phone with her employer in the month preceding her termination.

In one of those conversations, she'd asked her supervisor if she'd be able to use her breast pump when she returned to work. When the supervisor asked Cagle, he "responded with a strong 'NO. Maybe she needs to stay home longer.'" It was when she broached the subject a second time that Cagle paused before telling her she was fired.

The Fifth Circuit's decision only addresses Hughes' summary judgment ruling. The case now goes back to district court, where the court will weight the facts to determine if Venters was, in fact, discriminated against for wanting to breastfeed. Or maybe Houston Funding will just decide to cut its losses at this point and agree to a settlement.



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37 comments
bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

This thread illustrates what happens when an entire generation is raised on the chemical/industrial sludge marketed as formula. They grow up with sniggering breast hysteria and suffer attacks of the vapors whenever the subject of nursing comes up.

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

I was thinking about this further.  If the milk was left in the fridge, and forgotten about, would it turn to cottage cheese?  If so she could put some fruit in it and have it for lunch and save a few bucks.

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

Just remember.  After she squirts that stuff out it will have to be put in the office fridge.  Yech.

matt.helm75
matt.helm75

she's better off not working for a debt collection agency anymore.

Peacock214
Peacock214

According to the Google, Houston Funding is a debt collector. Why am I not surprised that they engage in unethical behavior with their own employees?

Bobbie Lea Baker
Bobbie Lea Baker

Yeah what about FMLA and being allowed to pump at work so long as you are off the clock. They are so going to lose.

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

breastfeeding, lactation, menstrual cycle, mammary glands and Anna didnt write this?  WTF!

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

It is a sad day indeed when judges have to use the dictionary to look up the meaning of words in order to decide a case.


I guess that the stage for this was set when Slick Willie said: "It depends on what the meaning of 'is', is."

Sharon_Moreanus
Sharon_Moreanus topcommenter

Does this mean I can use my dick pump at work now without getting fired?

Click. Click.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

misleading headline

again

Daniel
Daniel

@ScottsMerkinYeah, what's Eric doing on this beat? I was waiting for the part where a legless carjacker wheels up and shoots somebody in the now-painful groin in the middle of an Oak Cliff street at 3 a.m., but the article appears to be about lactation and lactation only.

Sharon_Moreanus
Sharon_Moreanus topcommenter

Its ok. You can rinse off in my golden shower.

Daniel
Daniel

@ScottsMerkin Did she really? I always doubted that she was 70 years old as she portrays herself, but I didn't know she was a dude.

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

@Daniel @GuitarPlayer @Myrna.Minkoff-Katz LOL I thought myrna outted herself as a  dude though

Daniel
Daniel

@TheCredibleHulk @Daniel Yes, "Trapezoidal Cities" -- the 1984 album that spawned "Hot Tonight (in the Night Time Heat)" -- was best described by Robert Christgau:


" A desperately trendy effort that claims, as its centerpiece, a truly moronic single ... this is hardly 'Through the Hallowed Halls,'  nor even a lesser work like 'The Court Where the Jester Dwells' .. their worst effort to date, this album should put to rest any notion  that Mr. Giles-Wooley and company still have any innovative ideas left in their increasingly irrelevant, dare I say geriatric, bones."

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@Daniel 

Yeah, in my personal opinion, they never really did recapture that lightning-in-a-bottle feeling of their seminal effort,"Balls Out".

Daniel
Daniel

@TheCredibleHulk @Anna_Merlan @Daniel @ScottsMerkin 

And after the original frontman split for a solo career, the rest of the guys carried on simply as Groin. 

By 1984, only the original bass player remained, and their output was a critical flop and a creative embarrassment, though the single "Hot Tonight  (in the Night Time Heat)" was the best-selling song of any of the band's numerous iterations. Its video, which featured a series of ghastly cliches, was heavily rotated on MTV in the 1984-85 time frame, and boasted cameos by both Jon Anderson and Ian Anderson (if you look carefully, you'll see that Jon is the bartender, and Ian the host, at the  "Anderson Brothers Pub").    

You can currently catch their late '80s-era keyboard player on the casino and county fair circuit under the touring name "Vince DeGrassi: The Music of Groin." 

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