Agency Says President of Debt Collection Firm Barred Employee From Returning From Maternity Leave Because She Intended to Use Breast Pump
HOUSTON – A Houston debt collection firm violated federal law by discriminating against an employee because she intended to use a breast pump upon her return from maternity leave, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed today.
According to the EEOC’s suit, in February 2009, Donnicia Venters worked for Houston Funding’s home office west of The Galleria in Houston as an account representative. Venters had worked for the company since March 2006, and she gave birth to a daughter on Dec. 11, 2008. The EEOC said Houston Funding refused to permit Venters to return to her job after she had taken less than three months of maternity leave. Although Houston Funding had been holding her job open for her, the company changed its mind after Venters advised upper management of her intent to express milk in a back office upon her return. The EEOC contends that Venters’s pregnancy and childbirth, and specifically her status as a lactating female, motivated Houston Funding’s decision to terminate her employment.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, prohibits employers from discriminating against employees and job applicants because of their sex (including pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions). The EEOC filed suit against Houston Funding II, Ltd. and Houston Funding Corporation in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division (Civil Action No. 4:11-cv-02442) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The federal agency is seeking a permanent injunction prohibiting the defendants from engaging in any further sex discrimination. The EEOC is also seeking back pay on behalf of Venters and compensatory and punitive damages and other relief on her behalf.
“Employers cannot discriminate against working mothers because of medical conditions related to their pregnancy or childbirth,” said EEOC’s Houston District Director R.J. Ruff, Jr.
EEOC’s Houston Regional Attorney Jim Sacher added, “This lawsuit will send a message to employers that the EEOC will vigorously enforce federal law by prosecuting companies which deny equal opportunity to women.”
According to the website www.houstonfunding.com, Houston Funding “is a company which purchases charged-off debt portfolios nationwide from most large institutions.”
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Additional information about the EEOC is available on the agency’s web site at www.eeoc.gov.