As confirmations began Monday for Donald Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch, a dispute over his attitude toward women and maternity leave surfaced based on a letter written by a former student at University of Colorado Law School who said Gorsuch had suggested in class that women manipulate companies, specifically law firms, in job interviews in order to land maternity benefits, according to NPR.
The letter, from Jennifer Sisk, a 2016 graduate of the the law school, was posted Sunday by the National Employment Lawyers Association and the National Women’s Law Center and was originally sent to Sen. Chuck Grassley and Sen. Dianne Feinstein on the Senate Judiciary Committee. In the letter, Sisk recounted a class during which Gorsuch presented a hypothetical scenario in which a female law student applying for a job also she admits she’s trying to start a family.
"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,” Sisk wrote. “Judge Gorsuch specifically targeted females and maternity leave. This question was not about parents or men shifting priorities after having children. It was solely focused on women using their companies.”
Sisk wrote that a few students raised their hands affirmatively when asked if they knew women who’d used companies for maternity benefits, but that Gorsuch prodded the class to agree that they knew women who'd manipulated companies in such a way.
Gorsuch responded by saying, “Come on, guys” and then suggested that all hands should be raised because women using maternity leave for benefits and then quitting once the baby is born is commonplace, according to Sisk’s letter.
“Judge Gorsuch focused on women having babies, not men expanding their families,” Sisk continued. “Judge Gorsuch’s comments implied that women intentionally manipulate companies and plan to disadvantage their companies starting from their first interview.”
At the time of Gorsuch’s maternity leave comments in April 2016, Sisk approached a senior assistant dean at the law school, Whiting Leary, and, a dean, Phil Wieser, with her concerns. They said they would speak to Gorsuch. but Sisk told NPR that she never followed up on whether or not the matter was addressed.
Since Sisk’s letter was first made available to the public, a male student in the same class and 11 former female law clerks to Gorsuch have come forth to dispute Sisk's characterization of the judge.
A current student at the University of Colorado, Will Hauptman, also wrote to the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding Gorsuch’s comments on women and maternity leave.
"Although Judge Gorsuch did discuss some of the topics mentioned in the letter, he did not do so in the manner described," Hauptman wrote, according to NPR. He explained that from his perspective, the judge’s comments were intended to prod students to think seriously about family planning and the law and that there was no “animus against a career or group.”
A letter composed by 11 female former law clerks to the judge and sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of him suggests that Gorsuch had served as a mentor and advocate for many of them.
"When we collectively say that Judge Gorsuch treats and values women fairly and without preference or prejudice based on their gender, we do not say that in a vacuum,” they wrote. “We say it with the perspective of those who know that unfortunately, even in 2017, female lawyers are not always treated as equals."
According to guidelines put forth by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, it is not beyond the scope of the law to ask questions regarding family planning, but the answers cannot be used to make hiring decisions.
Regarding her decision to write and send the letter, Sisk told NPR that she was surprised that a professor she respected held seemingly archaic views of women in the workplace.
“I was surprised sitting in this class, hearing this in April of 2016, and thinking that even a professor that I respected, that I see as so bright, so well-versed in the law, could also not only hold these views but was so comfortable expressing them to a room full of law students, including female law students that he the same semester had offered to mentor,” Sisk said.