MoMA PS1 Settles With Curator Who Accused the Museum of Pregnancy Discrimination

Nikki Columbus accused the museum's chief curator Peter Eleey and former director Klaus Biesenbach of rescinding a job offer after learning she'd recently given birth.

Nikki Columbus. Photo by Owen Hoffmann, ©Patrick McMullan.
Nikki Columbus. Photo by Owen Hoffmann, ©Patrick McMullan.

MoMA PS1 has reached a settlement with editor and curator Nikki Columbus, who accused the museum of  gender, pregnancy, and caretaker discrimination after it rescinded a job offer last year.

In her complaint with the New York City Human Rights Commission, Columbus said she was offered the position of associate curator of performance at the museum in August 2017, but while negotiating the start date and salary Columbus revealed that she had just given birth the previous month, leading the museum’s chief curator, Peter Eleey, and chief operating officer, Jose A. Ortiz, to withdraw the offer.

“What happened to me was wrong and clearly against the law. I decided to speak out in order to protect other women at MoMA PS1 and beyond,” Columbus said in a statement. “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.”

The settlement includes an undisclosed amount of monetary relief for Columbus and requires MoMA PS1 to update and distribute its written workplace policies related to pregnancy and caregiving for young children, including anti-discrimination protections, breast-feeding accommodations, and family and medical leave.

“Ms. Columbus has withdrawn her claim and MoMA PS1 is pleased to have reached a resolution,” wrote a representative of the museum said in a statement. “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.”

MoMA PS1 in Long Island City, Queens. Image CC via Flickr.

MoMA PS1 in Long Island City, Queens. Image via Flickr.

A petition responding to Columbus’s complaint and calling on the museum to enact policies that support working mothers attracted more than 29,000 signatures.

“I hope that this shows that it’s possible to hold the art world to account,” Columbus told the New York Times.

Previously an editor at the now-defunct Parkett magazine, Columbus has yet to find other full-time employment, she told the Times. MoMA PS1 has not filled the position it once offered Columbus, instead restructuring the performance program to include two assistant curators.


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