New mom claims she was fired because she wanted to pump breastmilk at work

February 8, 2012 6:11:02 PM PST
A new mom claims she was fired because she wanted to pump breast milk at work. But the judge dismissed her discrimination claim, and in his ruling said lactation is not a pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition.

We spoke with Donnicia Venters in Baytown. Venters is the one who was fired. She says she is hurt by the ruling, stunned that the federal judge would interpret the law as he has. Judge Lynn Hughes ruled that her employer violated no laws.

Venters is trying to make sense today of the ruling.

"I was very shocked, very shocked," Venters told Eyewitness News.

Venters claimed she was fired by her employer, Houston Funding, in 2009. She'd been out on maternity leave while giving birth to her daughter, Shiloh. She says she consistently kept in touch with them since the day she went out, making it clear she intended to return to work when possible. But she says when she called to set up a return date, she asked about the potential for breast pumping accommodations. She was then told her position had been filled.

"He said, 'Well, we filled your spot and I said, 'You filled my spot?' He's like, 'We put you down for job abandonment.' I was like job abandonment?" Venters said.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a suit against Houston Funding, alleging the company violated a portion of the Civil Rights Act. But Judge Hughes ruled against the EEOC and Venters saying "...lactation is not pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition. She gave birth on December 11, 2009. After that day, she was no longer pregnant and her pregnancy-related conditions ended."

Judge Hughes added that in his opinion, this was not sex discrimination.

Houston Funding's Bob Cagle says the suit never should have been filed. He's upset because it costs the company thousands of dollars to defend.

"We didn't violate the law because there was no law," Cagle said.

The health care reform that took place in 2010 was not retroactive. But Venters and the EEOC lawyers believe there was still a breach of the Civil Rights Act that protects breastfeeding mothers and they tell us they may not just let this case end here. A woman's job, they say, should be protected.

"I thought that was against the law, but apparently, I don't know what happened. I don't know," Venters said.

Venters' position wasn't protected by the Family Medical Leave Act because the company she was working for was so small. She told us she would like to appeal this ruling. Attorneys for the EEOC say they have not decided yet, but will consider.