Written by Thomas Kaplan
It is one of Elizabeth Warren’s signature anecdotes in her stump speech: By the end of her first year as a public-school teacher, she was “visibly pregnant,” and the principal wished her luck and hired another teacher to replace her.
In recent days, a conservative news site and other outlets have cited evidence that challenges her account, including past remarks by Warren in which she did not mention being forced to leave the school and minutes from a school board meeting showing that her contract was initially extended for the next school year.
Warren is now pushing back against any suggestion that she has misrepresented the circumstances of her departure and pointing to the discrimination that many pregnant women have faced on the job.
The school board did extend her contract early in her pregnancy, before the school knew about it, she said in an interview with CBS News. But two months later, when it was clear that she was pregnant, she lost the job.
“When I was 22 and finishing my first year of teaching, I had an experience millions of women will recognize,” she wrote on Twitter. “By June I was visibly pregnant — and the principal told me the job I’d already been promised for the next year would go to someone else.”
She added: “This was 1971, years before Congress outlawed pregnancy discrimination — but we know it still happens in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. We can fight back by telling our stories. I tell mine on the campaign trail, and I hope to hear yours.”
Warren did not name the principal in her tweets. News accounts show that the principal at the time was Edward Pruzinsky. He died in 1999.
Warren has frequently cited her experience with pregnancy discrimination as she has laid out her political biography to voters, explaining why she went from a public-school teaching career into law and eventually politics, and how her professional development was affected by a form of workplace bias that many women encounter.
Historically, it was common for U.S. teachers to be pushed out of their jobs during pregnancy, either through termination or the requirement of an unpaid leave of absence.
In 1974, the Supreme Court ruled some of these policies unconstitutional. But not all such policies were explicitly written down and tracked, giving many female teachers little legal recourse.
CBS News quoted a retired teacher from Warren’s school, Trudy Randall, who suggested Warren would have been unwelcome at the school given her pregnancy.
“The rule was at five months you had to leave when you were pregnant. Now, if you didn’t tell anybody you were pregnant, and they didn’t know, you could fudge it and try to stay on a little bit longer,” Randall was quoted as saying. “But they kind of wanted you out if you were pregnant.”
At issue are the circumstances that brought to an end Warren’s brief career as a special needs teacher at an elementary school in Riverdale, New Jersey, where she worked from 1970-71, when she was just out of college. On the campaign trail, Warren’s personal story is a central part of her stump speech, beginning with her upbringing in Oklahoma and, eventually, her experience as a teacher. As Warren tells it, she had wanted to be a teacher since she was in second grade.
“I loved that work, and I would probably still be doing that work today, but my story has some more turns,” she told a crowd in Nevada last week. “By the end of the first year, I was visibly pregnant, and the principal did what principals did in those days: wished me luck and hired someone else for the job.”
She included a similar account in her 2014 memoir. In some retellings earlier this year, she said the principal “showed me the door.”
In a post on Twitter last week, Meagan Day, a writer for the socialist magazine Jacobin, drew attention to an interview Warren gave in 2007 in which she discussed the end of her career as a public-school teacher and did not describe being forced out because she was pregnant. Warren recalled going back to school because she lacked the education courses she needed.
“I went back to graduate school and took a couple of courses in education and said, ‘I don’t think this is going to work out for me,’ ” Warren said in the interview.
Addressing the differences in her accounts, Warren said in a statement to CBS News, “After becoming a public figure I opened up more about different pieces in my life, and this was one of them.”
On Monday, a conservative website, The Washington Free Beacon, published minutes from meetings of the Riverdale Board of Education that referred to her employment status.
Minutes of a meeting April 21, 1971, show that the board approved the issuance of a contract for Warren’s second year… “Mrs. Elizabeth Warren — 2 days per week, Speech,” the minutes say.
Warren told CBS News that she had been hiding her pregnancy from the school.
“I was pregnant, but nobody knew it,” she said. “And then a couple of months later when I was six months pregnant, and it was pretty obvious, the principal called me in, wished me luck and said he was going to hire someone else for the job.”
Minutes of another school board meeting June 16, 1971, say that Warren’s resignation, effective June 30, “was accepted with regret.”
Warren’s first child, Amelia, was born that September.
The Republican National Committee said Tuesday that Warren had been “caught lying.”
Pregnancy discrimination can begin as soon as women reveal they are pregnant or are visibly showing and can continue to affect them for years. In physically demanding jobs, pregnant women risk being fired if they ask to take rest breaks, and in the corporate world, women and mothers may be steered away from prestigious assignments or excluded from client meetings if a boss perceives them to be less committed to their work than other employees.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, wrote on Twitter about Warren’s experience, “This happened to women ALL the time.”
Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act in 1978, which made it illegal to treat pregnant women differently from other people “similar in their ability or inability to work.” But the law did not solve the problem. Employers argued successfully in court that pregnant workers were comparable to people who got injured off the job and did not deserve to be accommodated.
Although many U.S. companies have made efforts to become more welcoming to women and retain mothers, pregnancy discrimination remains widespread. Joan C. Williams, the founding director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law, called it the “strongest form of gender discrimination there is.”
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