News & Politics

Former Law Student: Gorsuch Told Class That Women 'Manipulate' Maternal Leave

Gorsuch's confirmation hearings begin this week.

Photo Credit: Screenshot / YouTube

Neil Gorsuch once told a law school class that women frequently abuse maternity leave policies, according to a letter written by Jennifer Sisk, a former student of Gorsuch's at the University of Colorado Law School, that was sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee Friday night. 

As Sisk explains in the letter, published Sunday night by National Employment Lawyers Association and the National Women's Law Center, the incident took place during a legal ethics class. The students were discussing a hypothetical situation in which a female student is applying to jobs at law firms to pay off student debt, and intends to start a family with her husband.

Sisk wrote: "He interrupted our class discussion to ask students how many of us knew women who used their companies for maternity benefits, who used their companies to—in order to have a baby and then leave right away." After only a few students raised their hands, Sisk recalls Gorsuch saying, "Come on, guys. All of your hands should be up. Many women do this."

Law professors, as NPR pointed out in an interview with Sisk, frequently ask provocative questions in the course of teaching, but Sisk was adamant that Gorsuch's prodding of the class to raise more hands was out of the bounds of the usual challenges professors posed to students during the course of her law school career.

Another student, Will Hauptman, disputed Sisk's interpretation of the events, writing in a separate letter to the judiciary committee that "Although Judge Gorsuch did discuss some of the topics mentioned in the letter, he did not do so in the manner described." He did not dispute that Gorsuch made the comments, only that the discussion, "reflected his desire to make us aware of them, not any animus against a career or group."

According to Sisk, the discussion was specifically directed toward women: "He kept bringing it back to that this was women taking advantage of their companies, that this was a woman's issue, a woman's problem with having children and disadvantaging their companies by doing that."

Sisk brought her concerns to school officials who said they would speak to Gorsuch about his comments, though she did not follow up to see if the discussion had occurred. She told NPR she sent the letter "so that the proper questions could be asked during his confirmation hearings," but also said that, despite the fact that he doesn't support the Family Medical Leave Act, and values corporations above people, "He’s still better than the rest of the choices.”

Read the letter and listen to the NPR story

Ilana Novick is an AlterNet contributing writer and production editor.

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