But she was fired from her clerk job after becoming visibly pregnant. “We’re not running a maternity ward here,” she says they told her.
And three days before the school year began, Conlin, then seven months pregnant, was told by the dean’s office at Drake University’s law school that her scholarships would not be renewed.
The secretary that gave her the news told her it was because she was pregnant and “probably would not become a lawyer,” Conlin says.
Conlin eventually made it to graduate school with the help of a loan and her wedding ring, which she hocked to a pawnshop to pay her tuition at the time. She went on to enjoy a career that has spanned more than five decades and includes time as an assistant attorney general in Iowa and one of the first two women to ever be a U.S. attorney.
But after conservative commentators began to cast doubt on Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s campaign-trail assertion that she was discriminated against while pregnant as a schoolteacher in the early 1970s, Conlin felt the need to look back at this painful chapter in her own life.
She was one of hundreds of women who shared stories on social media about being fired or discriminated against for being pregnant, a tidal wave that needed no hashtag. The chorus of voices sharing tales of misconduct served as yet another rebuttal to a concerted campaign to undermine a prominent woman’s account of misconduct.
“It irritates me immensely,” Conlin said in a phone interview, of the attempts to smear Warren’s recounting of her biography. “How short their memories are. Some of them weren’t even born at the time.”
On Twitter, women told stories of being fired outright for being pregnant, as Conlin had been, or being told during interviews or meetings that pregnancy was a mark against them as they competed for positions, promotions and raises. They wrote of contracts not being renewed after they gave birth, and of positions that were revoked, as Warren says hers was. And they also spoke of more subtle forms of discrimination they faced while pregnant — being moved out of public view from a post at a bank, for example.
The ranges of experiences dated from the 1960s — still a decade away from federal legislation that officially outlawed discriminating against pregnant women — to the current day, as many said these issues are far from fully resolved. Warren read some of the stories women shared on a video she posted to Twitter on Wednesday.
Amy Rankin, 66, a retired public relations director in Florida, was one of those who shared her story, from 1987.
She said in an interview that she was fired from a real estate development company in Ponte Vedra Beach, a wealthy coastal enclave just south of Jacksonville, after giving birth to her second child that year.
Her bosses told tell her they wouldn’t hold her position during her leave.
“They called me at home,” she said. “It was within, I’d say, 10 days of delivering my son.”
They told her she couldn’t come back to work immediately to save her job, even though she offered, she said.
She tried to file for unemployment but her old workplace tried to stop her, she said, arguing she hadn’t been terminated.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which is responsible for enforcing federal laws that prohibit workplace discrimination, found that she had a right to sue, after she brought her complaint to them. But with two young children, she never got around to filing a lawsuit. She eventually found another job, at an ad agency.
Rankin said she remembers as a child in the 1960s that one of her elementary school teachers got pregnant and then disappeared from the classroom. She said she never found out what happened to the woman but always assumed she was forced to leave because of her pregnancy.
“I can’t believe that there are people out there who do not believe Elizabeth Warren,” she said. “If you are a woman and you are a woman of a certain age, you have been discriminated against, whether it’s pregnancy-related or whether it’s job-related.”
The prevalence of pregnancy discrimination is hard to gauge. After being targeted by decades of lawsuits and legislation, it is perhaps less overt as it was before it was outlawed federally.
“It’s still very much a pervasive issue that spans across industry, race, ethnic background and class,” said Alex Baptiste, a policy counsel at the National Partnership for Women & Families in Washington. “It shows up in different ways in different types of industries — could be a loss of promotion in a white-collar industry or lack of accommodation in a blue-collar industry.”
More than two dozen states and at least four cities have expanded protections for pregnant women beyond what is outlined in the 1978 federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act, but awareness of the laws and employees’ comfort challenging their employers can vary, Baptiste said.
The EEOC tracks federal complaints about pregnancy discrimination but not those routed to state or city agencies. The number of complaints it has received has decreased in recent years, from 4,029 in 2010 to 2,790 in 2018. About 60 percent of those complaints are typically found to have “no reasonable cause,” according to the commission.
Some 9 to 12 percent result in settlements; another 23 to 25 percent are found to have merit and are resolved in other ways. The commission says that $16.6 million was paid out in settlements in 2018.
“There’s always the option of filing a lawsuit,” Baptiste said. “But it’s not an option for a vast majority of workers, because it takes a lot of time and money, and it’s by no means a guarantee.”
Warren has said that as a pregnant teacher in 1971, when she was 22, she was told that a job she had been promised was given to someone else. But Republicans and Twitter commentators have used an old interview from 2007, in which Warren talks about being pregnant, as supposed evidence that she has been misleading.
Teachers who worked at the same elementary school in Riverdale, N.J., around the same time told The Post that pregnant teachers like Warren could be easily fired without cause.
“Back in those days, it was very common for people not to be rehired if they were pregnant,” said Trudy Randall, who began teaching at the school in 1968.
Conlin said it was common for teachers and women in just about every other profession to be let go after their pregnancies.
As an assistant attorney general, Conlin worked on a case involving two teachers, Joan Parr and Judy McCarthy, who were forced to take leaves from public high schools in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 1972 in the middle of their pregnancies. Because Parr had less than two years of service at the school, she was effectively fired, in accordance with the district’s policy about pregnancies at the time.
The Iowa Supreme Court found that the policies constituted discrimination on the basis of sex — in what Conlin believes was one of the first of such rulings.
“To suggest that [Warren] would have been able to keep her job as a teacher while pregnant is absurd,” Conlin said. “It didn’t happen anywhere in the United States of America, as far as I know, in the 1970s. Women who were pregnant had to pretend not to be pregnant to go on working.”
High-profile cases continue to grab attention. In Washington, D.C., in 2016, Chipotle was ordered to pay $550,000 to a former employee after being found to have fired her for being pregnant.
In another D.C. case around that time, a spy at the Defense Intelligence Agency who was lined up for a high-profile post in an unnamed country (“Country X” in the lawsuit) said her bosses violated her rights by trying to delay a training course at the end of her pregnancy and then failing to enroll her in it.
The EEOC ordered that the spy be given another comparable offer from the DIA, that she be given back pay and that her bosses undergo harassment training.
Conlin said she recently represented an Iowa firefighter whose superiors refused to put her on lighter duty while she was pregnant, and a police officer who got similar treatment.
“I probably get a dozen calls a year from women who are being discriminated against because they’re pregnant,” she said, adding that sometimes a phone call from a lawyer is all it takes to resolve one of those cases. “I take those kind of cases very personally.”