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New York’s MoMA PS1 has come under fire in recent weeks since curator Nikki Columbus claimed that the museum withdrew a job offer after finding out she had recently had a baby. Now, more than 18,000 people have signed a petition pressuring the museum to enact policies that support working mothers.

“When companies and organizations discriminate against working mothers it excludes capable, talented candidates from the workpool and disadvantages them, their families and their future,” reads the petition, launched on the activist social networking platform Care2. “It is unacceptable that an institution dedicated to bringing beauty to the world would behave in such an ugly manner.”

Under the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Pregnancy Discrimination Act women have no legal obligation to inform a prospective employer if they’re expecting a child. Concerned her pregnancy might present a roadblock with the museum, Columbus opted not to tell the museum’s chief curator, Peter Eleey, during her interview for a position as performance curator.

A representative at PS1 declined to comment on the situation, reiterating the museum’s previous statement that “MoMA PS1 is committed to a work environment in which all applicants and employees are treated with respect and dignity. We promote equal employment opportunities and do not tolerate any discrimination.”

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

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

Once Eleey offered Columbus the job, she began to negotiate the salary and start date, according to a lawsuit she filed against Eleey and PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach. Although Columbus met with both men just weeks before giving birth, Eleey allegedly told her afterward that he had not noticed she was pregnant and lamented that she had not told him “two months ago,” the complaint says.

The two had already discussed a part-time, work-from-home arrangement for the first month of employment, while Columbus wrapped up her obligations to her previous job at Parkett, the recently shuttered art magazine. She contends that this arrangement only became untenable for PS1 once leadership discovered she had a baby.

“This is discrimination, plain and simple,” reads the petition, which calls on PS1 “to change their discriminatory policies against working mothers.”

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