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MoMA PS1 Settles Discrimination Lawsuit with Curator Nikki Columbus

MoMA PS1 in Long Island City has reached a settlement with curator Nikki Columbus, who accused the museum of discrimination after it allegedly rescinded a job offer when it learned she recently had a baby, the New York Times reports. While the financial terms of the settlement were not disclosed, MoMA PS1 has agreed to revise its policies on anti-discrimination protections for parents and other caregivers.

Columbus, the former executive editor of Parkett magazine, was recruited for the curator of performance position by the museum’s chief curator, Peter Eleey, in April 2017—she was five months pregnant at the time. After several interviews and months of meetings and conversations, she was offered the job on August 12 and was planning to begin her tenure at the institution in September. Since she was still finishing up work at Parkett, which ended its print run that same year, she had discussed working part-time for a while before assuming her full responsibilities.

During this period, Columbus said she did not mention her pregnancy because she was warned not to by female friends and colleagues. “I was told by every woman I spoke with, don’t discuss your pregnancy until you get the job,” Columbus told the New York Times  last year. “I just went forward thinking that this is not their business, it’s not relevant to the job and to my abilities.”

However, shortly after notifying the museum that she had given birth to her son, Columbus was trying to finalize her salary and schedule for the post when she received an email from Jose A. Ortiz, MoMA PS1’s chief operating officer, that said the museum was unable to tailor the position to the terms she had proposed. The curator said that she had asked to work from home at first while she recovered from giving birth but did not request maternity leave.

Columbus named Ortiz, Eleey, and former PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach—who now heads the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles—in the gender, pregnancy, and caregiver discrimination lawsuit she later filed in July 2018.

“What happened to me was wrong and clearly against the law,” Columbus said in a statement. “I decided to speak out in order to protect other women at MoMA PS1 and beyond.” She added, “Institutions are resistant to change unless they are pushed. I hope that this settlement will encourage more women to come forward publicly with their experiences of discrimination and harassment, with the knowledge that we have the power to fight back against misogyny in the art world and effect change.”

Commenting on the settlement, Columbus’s legal representation, Elizabeth S. Saylor, a partner at Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP and a board co-chair of A Better Balance, said: “We hope that more people will follow Ms. Columbus’s lead and take advantage of the robust protections that NYC law provides.”

[Update:]

MoMA PS1 provided Artforum with the following statement: “Ms. Columbus has withdrawn her claim and MoMA PS1 is pleased to have reached a resolution. We are satisfied with the agreement and are happy to put this matter behind us. MoMA PS1 is committed to a work environment in which all applicants and employees are treated with respect and dignity. We have not, and will not, discriminate in hiring or promotion based on pregnancy, caregiver status, or gender—or any other characteristic protected under the law.”

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