HOUSTON, Texas (CBS Houston) — A Houston woman lost her lawsuit after she claimed she was fired for asking to use her breast pump at work.
Donnicia Venters tried unsuccessfully to sue former employer Houston Funding, with the help of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The decision on the case was handed down on Feb. 2, and stated that the company in question broke no laws by firing her.
“Even if the company’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,” the decision, provided in full to CBS Houston, stated. “She gave birth on December 11, 2009. After that day, she was no longer pregnant and her pregnancy-related conditions ended.”
It concluded, “Firing someone because of lactation or breast pumping is not sex discrimination.”
The trouble began for Venters, who had worked for Houston Funding since 2006, when she gave birth to her child in December 2008.
Initially, she had been assured an open slot when she returned. That changed in February 2009, when she called to discuss the terms of her return, mentioning in the process that she would need to use a breast pump during work hours.
“Well, we filled your spot,” supervisor Harry Cagle allegedly told Venters after a pause and an abrupt shift in mood, before officially terminating her employment.
Mark Oberti, who was representing Houston Funding, told CBS Houston that the judge’s decision is sound.
“The Honorable Judge Lynn Hughes found that the EEOC’s claim in the lawsuit — which Houston Funding denied was true in the first place — was not recognized under the law it sued under, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” he said in an email. “That is why the Judge dismissed the lawsuit. The Judge’s ruling is consistent with other courts’ rulings on this same issue. Houston Funding agrees with the Court’s ruling.”
Litigators acting on behalf of Venters feel the court made the wrong decision.
“The judge didn’t focus on the fact – he focused on what he interprets the law to be, and we find it incorrect,” Claudia Molina-Antanaitis, trial attorney for the Houston EEOC, told CBS Houston. “We are very disappointed with the decision and … we believe that an appeal is likely in the case.”
Justine Lisser, senior attorney-adviser for the Office of Communications and Legislative Affairs for the EEOC, also told CBS Houston that, for them, the case is not closed yet.
“We are reviewing the decision, and reviewing our options,” she added.
Cagle and Houston Funding later claimed that their reasoning for firing Venters had to do with her abandonment of the job, and not her need to lactate during work hours, a claim Molina-Antanaitis also contests.
“The company … said she failed to keep in touch, but we have phone records and a statement from the supervisor that she (did),” she said, adding that other court documents further indicate Cagle’s disdain for Venter’s need to pump breast milk at work through anecdotal evidence.