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Neil Gorsuch is denying former students' claims that he made sexist remarks in class

He also refused to say whether employers should be allowed to ask women if they plan to get pregnant.

Senate Holds Confirmation Hearing For Supreme Court Nominee Neil Gorsuch Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

During his confirmation hearing Tuesday, Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch denied allegations by two of his former law students that he made sexist remarks about women in the workplace.

A former student said Gorsuch said in a legal ethics class that “many” women lawyers lie about whether they plan to have children to abuse maternity benefits — and that their companies should ask about such plans to protect themselves. The remarks have become an attack for Democrats opposed to the Tenth Circuit Court judge’s nomination, particularly because Gorsuch, like many would-be justices, doesn’t have a long track record of public opinions on controversial issues.

But at the hearing Tuesday, Gorsuch denied those remarks, and said that instead he was asking for a show of hands to make the opposite point: that many women are often asked “inappropriate” questions about their family planning in a professional context.

A former student says Gorsuch made a sexist remark about women and maternity benefits

The former student, Jennifer R. Sisk, signed a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee describing a discussion in an April 2016 legal ethics class at the University of Colorado. Gorsuch, according to Sisk, said during a class discussion that “many” women lawyers manipulate their companies’ maternity benefits by lying about their plans to get pregnant, and then leaving soon after the baby is born:

[H]e asked the class to raise their hands if they knew of a female who had used a company to get maternity benefits and then 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 children. It was solely focused on women using their companies.

I do not remember if any students raised their hands, but it was no more than a small handful of students. At that point Judge Gorsuch became more animated 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.

When one student objected that employers can’t ask about family plans during a job interview, Sisk said Gorsuch denied that this was true: “Instead Judge Gorsuch told the class that not only could a future employer ask female interviewees about their pregnancy and family plans, companies must ask females about their family and pregnancy plans to protect the company.”

The university later confirmed to the committee that Sisk had raised these objections with them shortly after the class discussion.

Gorsuch argued the question was “inappropriate” — but dodged a question about whether it was illegal

When Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) confronted Gorsuch, however, Gorsuch flatly denied Sisk’s claims. He said he had never asked his students to raise their hands if they knew any women who had used their company for maternity benefits.

Instead, Gorsuch said, he asked for a show of hands of how many students had been asked “an inappropriate question about your family planning” in an employment context.

“I am shocked every year how many young women raise their hand,” Gorsuch said.

Gorsuch also dodged questions from Durbin about whether he thinks it’s legally inappropriate to ask questions like these, and whether a company should be able to take a woman’s family choices into consideration during the hiring process.

Nor did Gorsuch address Sisk’s claims that he had told his law class companies must ask women these questions out of protection.

Durbin pointed out that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) generally considers asking a woman about family planning during a job interview to be evidence of pregnancy discrimination.

Did Gorsuch find the EEOC’s guidance to be “persuasive,” Durbin asked?

“Senator, there’s a lot of words there,” Gorsuch replied, adding that he’d have to study the question further in the context of a judicial case to offer a legal opinion.