Judge says lactation not related to giving birth
By Richard Connelly
U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes is likely about to become the butt of Internet merriment with the news of a recent decision.
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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."
After we called Gilmore, a source told us that the judge subsequently issued an e-mail chastising her colleagues, apparently suggesting they, or someone in their charge, leaked this Watergate-proportioned story. (Our source said her e-mail referred to the Press as a "wag" paper. We wondered if she may have actually used "rag," because we're much more used to being called a "rag" than a "wag." The jury's still out on that one — hey-oh!).
Personally, we don't see anything offensive in these paintings. But then again, we also don't see why it would be a huge deal to move, or take down, the paintings if they really offended Gilmore and others so much. What we don't understand is why any judge would feel the need to hide his or her feelings about a freaking painting. Would anyone really lose respect for a judge who said that a painting was tacky/offensive/idiotic? As a matter of fact, we kind of dig Ellison criticizing the work of a dude whose paintings are in the Smithsonian and the Musée d'Art Moderne in Paris, because many snooty types (and outright poseurs) will jump on any such bandwagon.
Ellison told us: "There's a good bit of art that is in the Smithsonian and even more important museums that I think would be inappropriate for a jury assembly room. Obviously, we have a history that is replete with many very unfortunate images, and whether that's the right image to put up in a jury assembly room — where people are actually forced to come — unlike a museum, where they may choose to come, I think we need to be especially sensitive about the message we send with artwork. And for that reason, I think it was an unfortunate choice."
We think it's a sign of character to stand up and voice your opinion about a perceived injustice, even though you may be in the minority, and there may be bigger forces against you. For example, some people might wonder what the hell a sitting federal judge was doing giving a private tour to a membership organization that doesn't let homosexuals and atheists into leadership positions. Some people might recoil at the notion of a bunch of adults telling children it's okay to discriminate on the basis of religion or sexual orientation, decrying it as patently un-American and downright hateful.
We wonder what would happen if Gilmore had received an e-mail like that. We're guessing she'd probably just hit "delete."
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