HOUSTON – A controversial ruling from a Houston judge has sparked a firestorm among breastfeeding mothers.
Donnicia Venters had sued a debt collection company, Houston Funding, that she claimed fired her because she asked to bring a breast pump to work. Venters' attorney said her employee reviews had always been positive before she was let go.
"I didn’t think anything was wrong. I didn’t know this was going to happen," Venters said. "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."
Houston Funding claimed that Venters left on her own -- that the company had not heard from her and "assumed that she had abandoned her job."
The lawsuit has dragged on for years. But late last week, Judge Lynn Hughes ruled against Venters. He said that "firing someone because of lactation or breast-pumping is not sexual discrimination."
"Even if Venters's claims are true," Hughes wrote, "the law does not punish lactation discrimination."
Hughes added that "...lactation is not pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition."
The lawyer who represented Venters disagrees.
"Under the law that prohibits discrimination on pregnancy, childbirth or related medical condition, lactation is a related medical condition to pregnancy and childbirth," argued Timothy Bowne, an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission attorney. "There are no people that we know of who lactate who haven’t given birth recently."
At the Motherhood Center in southwest Houston, many moms were furious with the judge’s decision.
"No, I don’t think that it’s right," said one mom. "I think that if you want to continue breast feeding because it’s the best thing for your baby, you should be able to continue to bring your pump to work and continue doing that."
"I do think that would probably be sex discrimination because it’s a woman’s job to breast feed a baby and therefore, if they’re not making provisions to allow her to do that at work, then they are discriminating against women because a man would not be put in that situation," said another mom.
The EEOC and Venters say they’re weighing their legal options, but an appeal is very likely.