Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee once said women “manipulate” companies to access maternity leave and should be questioned about their plans to have children before they were hired, it has been claimed.

Judge Neil Gorsuch reportedly told a class of students that law firms had to protect themselves from female employees.

Former law student Jennifer Sisk, made the claim in a letter shared by the National Employment Lawyers and the Ntionl Women’s Law Centre.

“He asked the class to raise their hands if they knew of a female who had used the company to get maternity benefits and then left right after having a baby,” she said.

“At that point Judge Gorsuch became more animated saying ‘C’mon guys’. He then announced that all our hands should be raised because ‘many’ women use their companies for maternity benefits and then leave the company after the baby is born.”

Sisk said she was “distressed” by the content of the discussion and “surprised” someone of Judge Gorsuch’s professional standing could hold such views about female attorneys.

“It concerned me that a man educating female lawyers would be discounting their worth publicly,” she wrote. “Now it concerns me that a man who is being considered for our highest court holds views that discount the worth of working females.”

The letter has been sent to the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Chuck Grassley, and ranking member Senator Dianne Feinstein.

The allegations are likely to add to the tough scrutiny that awaits Judge Gorsuch at his Senate confirmation hearing that starts this week.

Democrats will be seeking to make the case that he is a pro-business, social conservative who is too closely tied to the president to be impartial.

They have said they will probe him on several fronts based on his record as a federal appeals court judge and a Justice Department appointee under former President George W Bush.

Another line of attack previewed by Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, will focus on rulings the judge has made in which corporate interests won out over individual workers.

Judge Gorsuch will fill the vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia last March.

His appointment has already proved controversial because Barack Obama’s nominee for the seat, Judge Merrick Garland, was blocked by Republicans who refused to hold a confirmation hearing or a vote.

With the court ideologically split, with four judges on the conservative and liberal wings, Judge Gorusch will tip the balance to the right.

Like all Supreme Court justices he would serve for life if confirmed.