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Thu Jul 12, 2018, 01:10 PM

New York museum rescinded job offer because I was a mother, curator claims

New York museum rescinded job offer because I was a mother, curator claims

Nikki Columbus sees #MeToo parallel after MoMA PS1 ‘turned on a dime’ when she told them she had recently given birth

MoMA PS1 said: ‘We promote equal employment opportunities and do not tolerate any discrimination.’ Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

The curator at the center of a gathering art-world storm over gender and parental discrimination says her experience of losing out on a major New York arts institution job – allegedly after revealing she had recently given birth – is at the next frontier of the #MeToo movement.Nikki Columbus, 43, an outgoing editor at Parkett magazine, last week sued the edgy, Queens-based MoMA PS1 contemporary art museum for discrimination. She accuses three senior museum executives of abruptly dropping an offer to make her associate curator of performance, upon learning that she was a new mother. She claims the move violatescity laws regarding caregivers, pregnancy and women’s rights.

“The realization that Ms Columbus was a new mother who would have caretaking responsibilities caused Respondents to turn on a dime,” the suit, which is lodged with the City of New York Commission on Human Rights, alleges. The conduct of the executives in question, named as the chief operating officer, Jose Ortiz; the director, Klaus Biesenbach; and the chief curator, Peter Eleey, “is the hallmark of discrimination”, the lawsuit contends.
Columbus told the Guardian on Monday: “When I told them I had to consider childcare as part of my schedule, Eleey asked me, why didn’t you say this two months ago? I was a little surprised, and I tried to be solicitous. Then, when I heard back again, I was told I could not perform the job as it is presently structured.” One of Columbus’s attorneys, Ali Frick, described her client’s experience as a blatant example of the discrimination women face in the workplace, and is seeking damages for lost wages and emotional harm. “Nikki is one of thousands of women in the art world who have been discriminated against because they are mothers, Frick said.
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But Columbus’s experience, she said, tallied with others, both within the notionally progressive art world and beyond. She said she had been warned by other women not to discuss that she was carrying a child during the initial interview process. The prejudice, she continued, was as prevalent in a progressive liberal arts environment as it might be elsewhere. Because Columbus did not overtly “show” during her term, the biases she ultimately met with were all the more obvious, she claimed. “Sure I was surprised it could be so blatant, but I’ve felt that even within the art world there is poor maternity leave, poor protections for pregnancy and poor caregiver policies.”
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Columbus’s experience, she said, might be included in an expanding #MeToo movement that has exposed misconduct and poor handling of harassment and discrimination in many industries, including media, entertainment, art, financial, technology and restaurant work.
“Sexual harassment and sexual assault are obviously in a different league of personal injury, but gender discrimination is another way that women are kept from rising in the workplace. We’re learning from #MeToo that women have been afraid to speak out, so that is one reason I wanted to come forward,” she said.

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