Pregnancy Puzzler

Lactation not related to giving birth.


Pregnancy Puzzler
Judge says lactation not related to giving birth

By Richard Connelly

That lactation has nothing to do with your pregnancy, ma'am.
Greg Houston
That lactation has nothing to do with your pregnancy, ma'am.

U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes is likely about to become the butt of Internet merriment with the news of a recent decision.

He'll also be pissing off breast-feeding moms, and that is one group you do not want to cross, as many companies and entities have discovered to their dismay.

In a suit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Hughes ruled that a company can fire a breast-feeding woman because "lactation is not pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition."

Texas companies cannot fire someone for being pregnant, but Hughes wrote of Donnicia Venters: "She gave birth on December 11, 2009. After that day, she was no longer pregnant and her pregnancy-related conditions ended."

Hughes added: "Firing someone because of lactation or breast-pumping is not sexual discrimination."

Good luck with that in the court of public opinion, judge. (Which is not a court Hughes has much cared about in his career, to be sure.)

Venters had worked for the debt-collection firm Houston Funding since 2006 and left for maternity leave in December 2009.

There was some contact between her and supervisors over when she would return, but the company eventually filled her position. She claimed they did so because she had mentioned the need to find a room to pump breast milk in, but the company said the decision was made before she mentioned that.

In the end the discrepancy was moot, because as Hughes ruled, breast milk has got nothing whatsoever to do with pregnancy.


Judges Offended By Historical Paintings

By Craig Malisow

Six historical paintings at Houston's federal courthouse have raised some hackles with two federal judges, who believe the paintings dredge up offensive imagery of slavery.

The paintings, depicting the Houston Ship Channel in the late 1870s and completed between 1938 and 1941, were displayed in the courthouse entryway from the 1970s until they were removed for restoration in 2006. In 2010, they were once again displayed, this time in the jury assembly room.

But U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore took umbrage at the art, especially a 1941 painting by Alexandre Hogue called The Diana Docking, showing laborers and spectators along Buffalo Bayou. In an e-mail to her fellow judges, she pointed out the presence of a white fellow with a gun, a black fellow with a bundle of logs and no shirt, and a Native American fellow who is made out of wood.

Gilmore wrote that she received comments from employees who felt "this picture as well as others in the series are offensive to persons who would rather not be reminded about that period in history or their part as either overseers or 'workers.'"


I brought a boy scout troop here over the holidays to earn their citizenship badge and while I was very proud to show them the historical time line with information about our court, it was rather awkward to have to walk them past the old, antiquated murals with pictures of shirtless black men hauling wood and bales of cotton. It said nothing about our court except that maybe we are too insensitive or oblivious to let some of these images die. We finally managed to get these dreadful images out of the lobby. Now can we please retire them for good.

(Unfortunately, she didn't mention the most perplexing part, in our eyes: that old woman with the picnic basket, in the lower left-hand corner. What's her deal? She is clearly not a child, yet she appears to be roughly three feet tall. Was 19th-century Houston teeming with Keebler elves?)

Her fellow judge, Keith Ellison, replied in an e-mail, "I share all of Vanessa's concerns. I have received many complaints about the murals which are, in addition to what Vanessa said, bad art."

But Ellison was also curious about "how such tasteless images came to be where they are. Were they the subject of a memorandum that I missed? Did the court vote on it? Did the Port of Houston put them there?"

Actually, the paintings are owned by the General Services Administration, which seemed quite proud of their work in restoring the paintings at the time.

Both Hogue (1898-1994), and artist Jerry Bywaters (1906-1989), who painted some of the other works on display, are renowned artists whose collections have been displayed in galleries throughout the country. Hogue's work was recently featured in the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History. The curator, Houston-based Susie Kalil, wrote a book about Hogue and explained in a 2011 museum press release, "It is impossible to think of the art of the Southwest during the past century without including Alexandre Hogue in the picture."

Judge Lynn N. Hughes responded to his colleagues with brief bios of the artists, as well as Houston Chronicle articles about the restoration. In his cover letter, he wrote that the label for The Diana Docking indicates that the scene is meant to depict the Ship Channel in 1876, "11 years after the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution."

Hughes also wrote that the white guy with the gun is wearing "the proverbial tin star of a lawman, suggesting his occupation."

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My Voice Nation Help

If lactation is not pregnancy related, then we need to re-write all of the biology books. I want to be a judge one day so I can play God, and when a mother's breasts begin filling with milk because she has given birth, I can say 'Well, it's your fault for being a woman. Deal with it'.

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