Judge Neil Gorsuch Made Some Questionable Comments About Women & Maternity Leave

Photo: AP/REX/Shutterstock.
Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Trump's nominee for the Supreme Court, allegedly told the students in one of his law school courses that employers should ask women whether they had plans to become mothers and implied that female employees use maternity benefits to game the system, NPR reports.
The claims were made by Jennifer R. Sisk, a 2016 graduate of the University of Colorado Law School and one Gorsuch's former law students, who said the SCOTUS nominee made these comments during a Legal Ethics and Professionalism course in the spring of 2016.
Advertisement
On Friday, Sisk sent a letter to the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Chuck Grassley, and Ranking Member Sen. Dianne Feinstein expressing her concerns about Gorsuch's comments and nomination to fill the SCOTUS seat left by the late Justice Antonin Scalia. The letter was posted on Sunday evening by the National Employment Lawyers Association and the National Women's Law Center.
Gorsuch's Senate confirmation hearings are set to start today.
Sisk told NPR she wrote the letter "so that the proper questions could be asked during his confirmation hearings."
She said that during class on April 19, 2016, Gorsuch posed a hypothetical question from the proposed reading material for the day. A handful of students were set to discuss the case of a female law student who was applying for jobs at law firms because she had a large debt. She also intended to start a family with her husband. According to Sisk, the question posed was whether the female law student should disclose to her future employers that she planned to have children. In her letter, she said that what followed was a discussion about work-life balance and how many law students come out of school with a lot of debt.
But Gorsuch then shifted the conversation elsewhere, Sisk told NPR.
Advertisement
"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," she said.
According to Sisk, only a few students raised their hands and Gorsuch pressed on.
"He said, 'Come on, guys. All of your hands should be up. Many women do this,'" Sisk recalled.
In her letter to the hearing committee, she explained her concerns even further.
"Judge Gorsuch specifically targeted females and maternity leave," she wrote. "This question was not about parents or men shifting priorities after having children. It was solely focused on women using their companies."
Advertisement
Ron Bonjean, one of the Trump administration's spokespeople who's working on the SCOTUS nomination, told NPR that Gorsuch has been among the law professors with the highest student rankings in the school.
Sisk recognized that Gorsuch was a good professor, but she still found his comments problematic.
"I did think he was a good professor," she told NPR. "But my interest is more with having someone talk to him and explain to him why he shouldn't be making these comments in class, why he needed to understand what the state of employment law was, and why it was problematic for him to express this view of employment law to a class full of students."
Law professors are known for making provocative assertions to their students in order to foster discussion in class. But Sisk said Gorsuch's comments didn't fit this description.
"It wasn't what he was doing. This was second-to-last class, hadn't been the style he had been using to sort of raise issues all class, or all semester," she said. "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."
Advertisement
A second student, Will Hauptman, who's still at the University of Colorado, wrote a letter to the Senate on Sunday refuting Sisk's account of the comments made by Gorsuch.
"Although Judge Gorsuch did discuss some of the topics mentioned in the letter, he did not do so in the manner described," he wrote, according to NPR.
He added, "The judge was very matter-of-fact in that we would face difficult decisions; he himself recalled working late nights when he had a young child with whom he wished to share more time. The seriousness with which the judge asked us to consider these realities reflected his desire to make us aware of them, not any animus against a career or group."
This is not the first time Sisk mentioned Gorsuch's comments during that course.
"Supreme Court nominee Gorsuch was my ethics professor last year. He is someone who has a sharp judicial mind and believes in facts and legal reasoning. However, in our class he was very comfortable discussing the fact that women use their companies and unfairly treat their employers by having children, therefore employers need heightened protections against women and need lax employment law before hiring women," she said.
Still, she concluded that, "He's still better than the rest of the choices."
Advertisement