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Curator Files Discrimination Lawsuit after MoMA PS1 Rescinded Its Job Offer

Nikki Columbus, the former executive editor of Parkett magazine, has filed a lawsuit against MoMA PS1 in Queens, New York, after the institution recruited her for a curatorial position and then allegedly rescinded its offer after learning that she recently had a child. According to Columbus’s legal representation, the New York–based firm Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP, the museum’s actions are in violation of the city’s laws on caregivers, pregnancy, and women’s rights.

Melena Ryzik of the New York Times reports that after months of meetings with MoMA PS1’s staff Columbus, who is a former editor at Artforum, was officially asked to join the institution as its new curator of performance in August 2017; she was planning to take up the post in September. While Columbus did not mention her pregnancy to the museum, she continued to have face-to-face discussions with the heads of the institution—Peter Eleey, the museum’s chief curator, and Klaus Biesenbach, its director—until a week before she gave birth to a son. When Columbus informed Eleey that she had a baby, she claimed that he seemed shocked. He also asked Columbus why she chose not to disclose that she was expecting.

Shortly after, the museum allegedly rescinded her employment offer. Jose A. Ortiz, MoMA PS1’s chief operating officer, told her via email that the institution was unable to tailor the position to the terms that she proposed. He also said that the museum interpreted her previous emails regarding scheduling and wages as a rejection of the job. Columbus replied that she wanted the position, but she was told the offer “was no longer active.”

Inspired by the #MeToo movement, Columbus pursued legal advice from the nonprofit A Better Balance. Elizabeth S. Saylor, a member of the organization’s board, brought the case to her firm, which then filed a complaint with the New York City Commission of Human Rights since the agency is known for prioritizing cases of pregnancy and caregiver discrimination.

In response to the controversy, the institution released a statement in which it said that it does not tolerate discrimination or harassment. An excerpt of the letter reads: “MoMA PS1 is committed to a work environment in which all applicants and employees are treated with respect and dignity.”