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Texas Moms Kept From Breastfeeding in Public Could Soon Have the Right to Sue

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Michelle Hickman, a Houston-area mother, became Internet famous in late 2011 when she was harassed by Target employees for publicly breastfeeding her infant. That happened despite Target's breastfeeding-friendly corporate policy and a 18-year-old state law that gives women the right to nurse "in any location in which the mother is authorized to be."

Still, moms whose breastfeeding rights are violated have little recourse unless they, like Hickman, want to organize a highly publicized nationwide nurse-in. The Texas law, though well-intentioned, is toothless. Now, state Rep. Jessica Farrar wants to give it some bite.

On Friday, Farrar filed a bill that would allow mothers booted from a public place for nursing can sue and collect damages from whomever did the booting, be it an individual, business, government or other entity.

Advocates have already won acknowledgment that breastfeeding is the optimal way for newborns to get nutrition and that the practice is something to be promoted. But breastfeeding isn't yet fully a right, not legally anyways.

Take the case of Donnica Venters, a Houston woman who said she was fired for asking to pump breast milk while at work. She and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued, only to lose in federal court last February.

"Lactation is not pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition," Judge Lynn Hughes wrote in her decision. That means there is no cause of action for "lactation discrimination" under federal law.

That looks unlikely to change anytime soon, but Farrar's bill would give women like Venters some recourse at the state level.

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