Opinion: Elizabeth Warren’s pregnancy discrimination story isn’t exactly hard to believe

Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren.
(Seth Wenig / Associated Press)

Did Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts lie when she said she was fired from her first teaching job at Riverdale Elementary School in New Jersey for being pregnant?

If so, was it during an interview 12 years ago when she was a Harvard law professor and skipped over the details of her departure, making it seem as if it were her own choice? Or is she fibbing now when on the campaign trail she tells the story of how her principal said he hired someone else for Warren’s job after she became “visibly pregnant”?

I don’t know, but it’s not a stretch to believe her story of pregnancy discrimination.

Half a century removed, it may be hard to imagine, but back in the early 1970s, employers openly and regularly hustled women out the door when loose clothing could no longer conceal their expanding bellies. As two former schoolteachers in the Riverdale district told CBS News, there was a rule at the time that women would stop working. The practice wasn’t outlawed until 1978, when Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

Even so, pregnancy discrimination is still a problem in the workplace, though it may be less overt and actionable, and thus harder to pin down. The Center for American Progress reported last year that pregnancy discrimination remained a problem in all industries. Last year, the New York Times did a great report on the various ways that employers punished women for being pregnant.

The Washington Free Beacon published documents earlier this week showing that Warren was granted a contract by the school board for a second year of teaching. The article references that 2007 interview and its disparity with the story she now tells.


Certainly, her subsequent response could have been better. Although she didn’t comment for the article, she later said the extension was granted before her pregnancy was showing and that the offer was later rescinded. OK. But what about her earlier comments, which imply she left voluntarily to raise a family? Was that a deliberate effort to avoid the details?

If that’s what happened — and I suspect it was — I don’t think admitting it hurts her. It’s very human to gloss over the painful details, especially when the cold, hard truth doesn’t make us look great. In this case, getting fired for being pregnant would cast Warren in the role of victim, a show of weakness many a career-minded women would want to avoid.