Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is defending her account of being asked to leave her job as a public school teacher because she was “visibly pregnant,” dismissing recent scrutiny over the story.
“When I was 22 and finishing my first year of teaching, I had an experience millions of women will recognize. 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,” Warren tweeted on Tuesday, repeating the story she often tells on the presidential campaign trail about her experience as a speech pathologist at Riverdale Elementary School in New Jersey.
“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,” Warren tweeted. “I tell mine on the campaign trail, and I hope to hear yours.”
Some questions surfaced about the story this week after the right-leaning Washington Free Beacon published minutes from an April 21, 1971 meeting of the Riverdale Board of Education, showing the board voted to extend Warren’s contract for a second year. Minutes from another meeting on June 16, 1971 show the board voted on Warren’s resignation, which was “accepted with regret.” (The documents cited by the Free Beacon offer no context on the “resignation.”)
She gave birth to her daughter in September.
“I was six months pregnant, it was my first job, I was 22 years old, and the job that was mine — that I’d been hired for for the next year — was taken away when they knew I was pregnant,” Warren told CBS News this week. “It was my job, and in April, they’d said, ‘You’re doing a great job, come back next year.’ And when they found out I was pregnant, they changed that.” A former teacher, who was working at Riverdale Elementary at the time Warren left her position, told CBS News there was a “rule” that women more than five months pregnant “had to leave” their jobs.
In at least one interview in 2007, Warren discussed leaving teaching without saying she was forced out because she was pregnant. In a statement to CBS News, Warren said, “after becoming a public figure I opened up more about different pieces in my life and this was one of them.”
As Dana Goldstein notes in her 2014 book, The Teacher Wars, it was all too common at the time for teachers to be pushed out of their jobs due to pregnancy. The issue became the subject of a 1974 Supreme Court decision, which determined that mandatory maternity leaves requiring pregnant teachers to leave their job after the fourth month of pregnancy were unconstitutional.
“There is case after case of this, women who were let go the way [Warren] was,” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said on Twitter. “If you could hide your pregnancy through 6 months, you might be able to keep your job longer. But when it was obvious, you were shown the door.”
In 1978, Congress passed a law prohibiting pregnancy-based discrimination in the workforce. But it remains a widespread problem in many industries today. Many women responded to Warren by sharing their own experience with pregnancy discrimination on social media — in a video shared on Tuesday night, Warren shared a number of the stories.