Gorsuch's Maternity Leave Comments Are Controversial

by Natasha Guzmán
Alex Wong/Getty Images News/Getty Images

His record on women's rights was already conservative to begin with, but a new blow, alleging that judge Neil Gorsuch made insensitive comments about women and maternity leave, hit the potential Supreme Court justice on Friday. Jennifer Sisk, a graduate of University of Colorado Law School who took Gorsuch's legal ethics class, alleged in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee that the judge had given a lecture targeting women who seek maternity leave and characterizing the issue of balancing parenthood and a career as solely a women's issue. Gorsuch's team said that Sisk misunderstood his comments, according to Politico, and on Monday, a letter by a student of the same class named Will Hauptman denied Sisk's claims. But the assertions made in Sisk's letter are concerning, and if true, they should be taken into account when it comes to Gorsuch's confirmation.

Sisk's letter describes the class and repeatedly highlights Gorsuch's alleged emphasis on mothers — rather than parents in general — "using" their employers for benefits. Sisk claimed:

At some point Judge Gorsuch stopped this discussion about the hypothetical and work life balance in the legal profession. Instead, he asked the class to raise their hands if they knew of a female who had used a company to get maternity benefits and left right after having a baby. Judge Gorsuch specifically targeted females and maternity leave. This question was not about parents or men shifting priorities after having a baby [...] Gorsuch became more animated and saying "C'mon guys". He then announced that all our hands should be raised because "many" women use their companies for maternity benefits and then leave the company after the baby is born.

According to Sisk, Gorsuch reportedly went on to insist that law firms must question potential female employees about their pregnancies or plans to have families in the future. Sisk claimed that no such questioning was suggested for men applying to jobs.

In his rebuttal to Sisk's letter, Hauptman acknowledged that Gorsuch did indeed discuss the topics outlined in his classmate's account. However, he characterized the lecture as Gorsuch's attempt to teach his students about "the various challenges" they "would face as new attorneys." It is worth noting that Hauptman, a man, primarily took issue with Sisk's description of the tone in the class, which he defended as "respectful and cordial." Also worth noting is that Hauptman also noticed an emphasis on women in Gorsuch's lecture. "Among those challenges were balancing our desire to perform public service with our need to pay off student loan debt, and the tension between building a career in a time-intensive profession and starting a family and raising children — especially for women," Hauptman wrote. Furthermore, someone helping with Gorsuch's nomination process wrote in a letter obtained by NBC News that Sisk had misunderstood his lecture, and that her claims were false.

Given that pregnancy discrimination continues to be a huge issue today, the possibility that Gorsuch could hold controversial views on maternity leave is alarming.