There are several stories out questioning an oft-repeated part of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren’s campaign stump speech. Throughout her time in public life, including as she recounted it as far back as 2007, Warren has repeatedly claimed she was fired from her position as a public school teacher in 1971 directly as a result of her becoming pregnant. Warren has used this story as a personal example, she claims, of how women have endured undue discrimination in the workplace and she is no stranger to what that feels like having experienced it firsthand.
There’s just one issue, according to some reports. Apparently no one had done a deep dive into the story to find out if, in fact, Warren was let go in 1971 as a result of her pregnancy, as she has repeatedly claimed.
According to a CBS News report, Warren’s version of the events, and the record from the Riverdale Board of Education, a New Jersey school district, are not in agreement on the circumstances of why Warren left her teaching role:
Fresh out of the University of Houston, Warren was hired by the Riverdale Board of Education in New Jersey as a speech pathologist for the 1970-1971 school year. Since she began her campaign for the presidency, she has repeatedly said that she was “shown the door” after just a year as a result of her pregnancy.
“By the end of the first year I was visibly pregnant, and the principal did what principals did in those days: wished me luck, showed me the door, and hired someone else for the job,” she said at a town hall in Oakland in June.
The “showed me the door” anecdote came up often on the campaign trail until recently. And now some outlets have found a 2007 interview Warren gave in which she presents the story in a different light.
Warren’s line of being “shown the door” by the school principal has been a staple of her story on the campaign trail until her retelling of the story changed recently.
The CBS story notes that back in 2007, Warren recounted a different version of the story, one where she voluntarily left her teaching position to raise a family but gave no indication at the time that she was forced out due to pregnancy:
In a  interview that year at the University of California, Berkeley, Warren gave the first known public account of her time at Riverdale.
“I worked in a public school system with the children with disabilities. I did that for a year, and then that summer I didn’t have the education courses, so I was on an ’emergency certificate,’ it was called,” Warren said in 2007. “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.’ I was pregnant with my first baby, so I had a baby and stayed home for a couple of years.”
Asked by CBS News why she told the story differently at Berkeley a decade ago, Warren said her life since her election to the Senate in 2012 caused her to “open up” about her past. “After becoming a public figure I opened up more about different pieces in my life and this was one of them. I wrote about it in my book when I became a U.S. Senator,” she said in a statement from her campaign.
The questions arose when reporters decided to dig into the story and verify some of the circumstances surrounding Warren’s departure from the school.
The CBS story lists several areas where, according to various media reports, it would appear that the Riverdale School Board had unanimously voted to continue Warren’s position and that no record of any official dismissal could be found on any official school record:
Warren’s changes in phrasing when discussing her dismissal have sparked questions about her story’s veracity. Fox News has cited the 2007 interview as a contradiction with her more recent statements. The Washington Free Beacon reported on a transcript from contemporaneous local school board meetings, also obtained by CBS News, which said Warren was rehired that spring and that the board “accepted with regret” her “resignation” the following summer.
In fact, the school board minutes show that the board voted by unanimous roll call to extend Warren a “provisional certificate” in speech pathology.
Local newspaper reports from 1971 also present reasons for her leaving the school alternative to what she describes on the trail. The Paterson News, a local paper, reported that summer that Warren was “leaving to raise a family.” The next month, a story about the school board hiring a replacement said Warren had “resigned for personal reasons,” even though the board had voted to “appoint” Warren to the same speech pathology job that April, according to an earlier report.
Despite the school board record and local newspaper reports at the time, Warren does have some support from retired teachers who worked in the district at the same time she did. While neither woman them says they remember Warren being fired due to pregnancy, they do also claim that were was unspoken discrimination for women who became pregnant while working in the Riverdale Elementary:
Two retired teachers who worked at Riverdale Elementary for over 30 years, including the year Warren was there, told CBS News that they don’t remember anyone being explicitly fired due to pregnancy during their time at the school. But Trudy Randall and Sharon Ercalano each said that a non-tenured, pregnant employee like Warren would have had little job security at Riverdale in 1971, seven years before the Pregnancy Discrimination Act was passed.
“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 said. “But they kind of wanted you out if you were pregnant.”
The long and short of the story is that it might not mean all that much on the campaign trail for Warren. There is no way to prove or disprove the story, though it would seem that a unanimous school board vote and surrounding reports lend credit to a contrary version of the events compared to the way Warren describes.
On the other hand, a school board vote does not mean that Warren didn’t feel personally discriminated against, perhaps in some capacity, from one or more school officials who did practice some discrimination against untenured female teachers who became pregnant.
Chalk this one up to a decision left for voters to consider. Taken with the backdrop of Warren’s claims of Cherokee tribal heritage, which were disproven on Warren’s own accord, and it may create doubts for some voters on other parts of Warren’s record.
It remains to be seen whether Warren’s opponents will raise this issue on the campaign trail or try to use it against her in the next debate.