Pregnancy Discrimination in the New York City Art World

New York City pregnancy discrimination laws serve two functions. They prohibit employers from taking adverse actions because of pregnancy, childbirth, or conditions associated with either; and they require employers to provide reasonable accommodations. Some industries present greater problems for workers than others. This may be based on the nature of the work itself, or the legal relationship between workers and employers. In New York City’s art world, working conditions have long been difficult for people who are pregnant or are parents.

New York City Pregnancy Discrimination Laws

Both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) protect workers against pregnancy discrimination, but neither statute uses that precise term. Title VII prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, and defines “on the basis of sex” to include “on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e(k), 2000e-2(a)(1). The NYSHRL bars discrimination based on “familial status,” defined to include “any person who is pregnant or has a child.” N.Y. Exec. L. §§ 292(26)(a), 296(1)(a).

The NYSHRL and the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) require employers to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees. The NYCHRL goes a step further by requiring specific accommodations for workers who have recently given birth. Under the NYSHRL, employers must make reasonable accommodations for “pregnancy-related conditions” in order to allow workers “to perform in a reasonable manner the activities involved in [their] job or occupation.” Id. at §§ 292(21-e), (21-f); 296(3). The NYCHRL sets similar requirements, but also requires employers to provide a “sanitary place, other than a restroom,” which employees can use to express breast milk in privacy, along with a refrigerator to store expressed milk. N.Y.C. Admin. Code §§ 8-102, 8-107(22).

Workplaces in the New York City Art World

According to an article published last fall in artnet News, nationwide employment problems affecting pregnant employees and working mothers “are amplified in the art industry.” This may be due in part to the structure of many employers, which tend to be nonprofit organizations and small businesses, and the status of many workers as independent contractors. Smaller businesses and organizations are less likely to have human resources departments or officers, making it more difficult for workers to assert their rights. Independent contractors are not employees, and therefore may not have rights under laws like Title VII or the NYCHRL.

The article goes on to describe the arts as an “industry of vampires,” meaning that much of the important work occurs after daytime work hours at art gallery exhibitions and other events. This often excludes workers with parenting responsibilities. Add to that “a romanticized view of working in the arts for love rather than money,” and it is easy to see why many workers are unwilling to speak out.

In 2019, a curator settled a pregnancy discrimination complaint that she had filed against a prominent New York City art museum. She alleged that the museum had offered her a position, but then rescinded it when it learned that she had recently had a child. The case stands out, as noted by Observer, because it seems unusual for anything like this to happen in the art world at all.

The employment attorneys at Phillips & Associates represent New York City workers who have experienced discrimination on the basis of pregnancy and others factors. To schedule a free and confidential consultation with a member of our experienced and skilled team, please contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431.

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