WASHINGTON — The University of Colorado Law School did not inform Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch of a complaint filed against him last year for his conduct in a class he teaches, the law school dean said Monday.
Allegations surfaced over the weekend that Gorsuch suggested in a law class last year that women unethically use companies for maternity benefits, leading to a student to share her concerns with the law school. But the school apparently did not relay the complaint to Gorsuch.
“In late April and May 2016, law school administrators met with the student to address her concerns and told her the matter would be raised with Judge Gorsuch after grades were submitted for the spring semester,” Dean S. James Anaya said in a statement.
“At the end of June, the law school had a transition of deans and, regrettably, preceding that change, no member of the law school administration spoke to Judge Gorsuch about the student’s concern. We apologize to the student who expressed the concern and to Judge Gorsuch for not bringing this matter to his attention last summer.”
The school will not publicly discuss details of student complaints, but media reports have made it aware of the issue, Anaya wrote.
Jennifer Sisk, a former student in Gorsuch’s ethics class at the law school, wrote a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee detailing her concerns about a discussion in his course last April.
In the letter, Sisk writes that Gorsuch asked for students’ opinions about a hypothetical scenario in which a woman applied for a job at a large law firm to pay off her student debt and planned to start a family with her husband in the near future.
“He 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,” she writes.
Sisk writes that one point 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.”
She claims Gorsuch told the class that “companies must ask females about their family and pregnancy plans to protect the company.”
Sisk writes that she was “distressed by the tenor of his comments” and made her concerns known to the law school’s administration.
Sisk, a registered Democrat who once worked for former Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, confirmed that she authored the letter.
Supporters swiftly pushed back. Responding early Monday morning, those working to push through his nomination issued a statement saying the allegations “are completely and unequivocally false.”
They said legal ethics courses often involve discussing difficult topics and argued that just because a professor engages his students in such conversations, it doesn’t necessarily mean the professor espouses a viewpoint raised in the hypothetical scenario.
This particular conversation, supporters said, comes up every year in his course, and he hasn’t previously been accused of adopting any particular views.
Will Hauptman, also a former ethics student of Gorsuch and classmate of Sisk’s, released a statement that was pushed out by his supporters, calling Sisk’s comments “not truthful.”
“Although the judge did discuss some of the topics that Jennifer mentions in her post, he did not do so in the manner that Jennifer describes,” he said in a statement.
“Judge Gorsuch frequently asked us to consider the various challenges we would face as new attorneys,” he said. “Among the challenges the judge asked us to think about were we balancing our desire to perform public service with our need to pay off student loan debt, and the tension between building (and maintaining) a career in a time-intensive profession and starting a family and raising children — especially for women.”
Hauptman added the conversations in their class “were always respectful and cordial.”
Another former student, Catherine Holtgrewe, said she “never heard Judge Gorsuch ever speak disrespectfully to or about anyone.”
“As a former student, I am a witness to the respect that he showed towards his female students and fellow professors at Colorado Law,” she said in a statement. “The supposed remarks he made in his 2016 legal ethics class are completely out of character, and I find very hard to believe are accurately relayed.”
Tuesday morning, Baker Arena, a male self-described “liberal feminist Democrat,” said Gorsuch was presenting the matter hypothetically.
Supporters also pointed to his class evaluation, in which they said he received a 6.0 score, the highest possible, for “instructor respect and professional treatment.”
Last week, nearly 100 former students sent a letter in support of Gorsuch’s nomination to the Judiciary Committee.