Sotomayor fought discrimination as Yale Law student

Tuesday, May 26, 2009 | 6:10 p.m. CDT; updated 6:56 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, May 26, 2009

WASHINGTON — As a senior at Yale Law School, Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor forced a Washington law firm to apologize for what she considered discriminatory questions that a partner asked about her Puerto Rican heritage during a recruiting dinner.

The questions included: "Do law firms do a disservice by hiring minority students who the firms know do not have the necessary credentials and will then fire in three to four years? Would I have been admitted to the law school if I were not a Puerto Rican? Was I culturally deprived?" according to a December 1978 article in The Washington Post about the incident.

During her formal interview the day after the dinner, Sotomayor challenged the partner about the questions. The partner said he meant no harm and invited her to Washington for further job interviews. Sotomayor declined and filed a discrimination complaint with Yale, putting the firm, then known as Shaw, Pittman, Potts & Trowbridge, at risk of being banned from recruiting at Yale.

The incident sparked a campus controversy in which minority and women's groups backed Sotomayor. A student-faculty tribunal investigated and found the questions violated the university's rules about discrimination. It rejected the firm's first letter of apology as too weak before accepting its second letter.

The episode "prevented us from recruiting her, which we wanted to do. It also probably prevented us from recruiting other students," the Post quoted a senior partner in the firm, Ramsay Potts, as saying at the time.

Sotomayor joined the New York City prosecutor's office after receiving her law degree.


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