Tulsa woman suing company over payments for breast milk

TULSA, Okla. — A Tulsa woman is suing Mother’s Milk, a for-profit breast milk cooperative she has accused of taking advantage of her.

Bonnie Gibson says the company entered into an agreement to pay her for breast milk, for babies in NICUs, and didn’t pay her what they owed her.

When she complained about not being paid for nearly 2,400 ounces of milk she sent Mother’s Milk, Gibson says the company told her their money was tied up in lawsuits and “most mothers understand.”

FOX23 checked the Better Business Bureau and found several complaints about Mother’s Milk and the “Milk Money” program.

See the BBB page here

Mother’s Milk’s website now states the “Milk Money Program” accepts a limited number of donors, due to the popularity of the program, milk money payments are delayed and distributed on a rolling basis, and milk money payments are delayed due to a lawsuit.

Gibson filed a lawsuit against Mother’s Milk. Her attorney, Leslie Briggs, believes other women are owed money, and she’s encouraging them to contact her at Smolen Roytman Attorneys at Law.

Mother’s Milk responded to FOX23 with the following:

“Thank you for reaching out to give us an opportunity to respond. Our lawyers are looking into the lawsuit, and the merit of the punitive damages claim to the tune of $75,000 - the plaintiff has been paid in full ($1985.46) but has yet to cash her check. Please see attached for check stub.

This is an unfortunate situation, we’re unhappy about it, and we owe an apology to our donors who have been affected by payment delays. First, the outstanding payment to the donor who filed the lawsuit was made nearly a month ago but not yet cashed, it was however sent late. We understand that issuing the payment does not excuse the late aspect of the payment. Second, our communications are flawed. While some donors are paid in a timely manner, others are not. This has been a long-standing problem that began as the direct result of the unsustainable cost in the millions to defend ourselves against an anticompetitive lawsuit from a large, venture funded company seeking to destroy our business. Presently, <15% of preemies - whose lives depend on access to human milk reside in a hospital that can afford costly human milk based fortifier. This disparity in care increases risk of lethal infection and death from ~1% risk to >35% for infants in a hospital that simply cannot afford it. Disparity in this space is driven directly by exorbitant prices of human milk based fortifier. We disrupted the space by developing nutritional products for preemies that are more affordable and improved safety. The largest company in the space responded to that by suing us. It has been in the fight of our lives to stay in business. We deeply regret that our donors have felt the negative impact as a result of this situation and to address that we will update our program details to reflect a more accurate depiction of payment wait times. Although we are ashamed of the delay to payments being made - we are proud to have paid out millions of dollars since our inception to nursing mothers across the country. We will continue to pay out every dollar earned by our donors in the most timely manner possible. Regardless of the challenges we have faced, we remain dedicated to providing life saving human milk for preterm infants - and as the first milk bank to offer payment to donors - we remain committed to our Milk Money program and to the donors who benefit from it. The ability to earn money from excess breast milk has been life changing to many of our donors, and while our program is far from perfect we will continue working on solutions to address the payment delays. We wholeheartedly apologize to Ms. Gibson and any other donors affected.”

FOX23 checked with the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office. They have not investigated any complaints against Mother’s Milk.

Gibson’s attorney responded to Mother’s Milk and sent that response:

“Ms. Gibson received a check for less than what she is owed more than two weeks after Mother’s Milk had been served with our lawsuit and nearly a year after payment was initially due. Forcing Ms. Gibson to hire an attorney and file a lawsuit to obtain payment is further evidence of fraudulent conduct by Mother’s Milk. Mother’s Milk may regret its many breaches of contract with young mothers across the country, including Ms. Gibson, but that does not absolve the company of its failure to honor its agreements. Nor does it justify Mother’s Milk continuing to fraudulently recruit young mothers with the promise of payment it has no intention of making. Finally, Mother’s Milk cannot avoid responsibility for its conduct by hiding behind a noble cause of helping premature babies. The ends do not justify the means if their practice is to prey on young mothers.”

—  Leslie K. Briggs, Attorney for Bonnie Gibson