A Former MoMA Employee Is Suing the Museum For Discrimination, Alleging Unjust Termination

Philip Parente claims he was fired for refusing a vaccine his doctor advised against because of a medical issue.

Exterior view of The Museum of Modern Art, 53rd Street Entrance Canopy. The Museum of Modern Art Renovation and Expansion Designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro in collaboration with Gensler. Photography by Iwan Baan, Courtesy of MoMA .

A former employee of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, who worked for the famed institution for nearly two decades, has filed a discrimination lawsuit alleging he was fired for refusing a COVID-19 vaccine his doctor advised against because of a medical issue.

Philip Parente filed the lawsuit against MoMA in Manhattan federal court on October 26, court documents show. He is seeking punitive and compensatory damages, including damages for mental and emotional distress and back-pay.

Parente, a native New Yorker living in Brooklyn, had considered his career with the museum his “dream job,” according to the lawsuit, after developing a love for painting and drawing in school. Now he claims the museum violated his rights under the Americans With Disabilities Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.

“I devoted my entire professional life to MoMA. In my 17-year tenure, I did everything asked of me and much more, and was recognized countless times for my work,” Parente said in an email from his lawyer, Christopher J. Berlingieri.

“It was an honor to work at the MoMA Library during the golden age of the photobook, curate my first exhibition, attend Paris Photo on behalf of MoMA, and help shape the Library’s collection. Unfortunately, my request for a simple, reasonable accommodation was not handled appropriately and I hope to remedy the situation with the assistance of my counsel.”

Philip Parente is pictured working on an an installation for an exhibition at MoMA during his employment. Photo courtesy of his lawyer

In his lawsuit, Parente said he started off as an intern and working his way up to a position as a library collections coordinator and even curated an exhibit during his time with MoMA.

“Parente was an excellent employee and never faced any disciplinary issues whatsoever,” his lawyer wrote in the lawsuit.

His time with MoMA ended in 2021 when he was required to get a vaccination against the COVID-19 virus at the height of the pandemic. However, Parente has a heart condition called supraventricular tachycardia. Though the condition is considered generally not life-threatening, according to the Mayo Clinic, his cardiologist, Patrick Fratellone, advised him not to get the vaccine.

“He carefully managed his medical condition with his career, but in 2021, he needed a simple, reasonable accommodation to continue performing his job,” his lawyer wrote in the lawsuit. “But MoMA did not care.”

When he was fired, Parente was also accused of stealing books and other materials, the lawsuit alleges. Further details about what Parente is alleged to have taken were not immediately known.

Artnet News has reached out to MoMA for more information and additional comment.

The lawsuit names the museum as a defendant, as well as MoMA’s chief of archives Michelle Elligott and chief human resources officer Odessa Matsubara.


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