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Costumer Sues Prominent NYC Modern Dance Company for Gender and Pregnancy Discrimination After Being Fired

Paul Taylor Dance Company dancers

Paul Taylor Dance Company dancers

A prominent modern dance company was sued in a Manhattan federal court on Thursday for gender discrimination and retaliation over allegations that female dancers and other employees have been discriminated against for years – particularly when they get pregnant.

Barbara Delo previously worked for the Paul Taylor Dance Company, the eponymous, New York City-based dance company founded by the late dance instructor Paul Taylor, who died in 2018. The 38-page lawsuit levels various claims against both the company and its executive director John Tomlinson.

A costumer by trade with over a decade of experience, Delo designed and produced costumes for Paul Taylor’s dancers for just shy of a year, from September 2021 until July 2022, the lawsuit claims, when she was allegedly terminated over her pregnancy-related complaints.

The complaint says the trouble began before Delo was employed – initially passed over for an open position due to her visible pregnancy.

“Tomlinson asked a colleague, ‘What will she do with the baby?,’ before hiring a less-qualified man who soon failed to fulfill the job’s requirements,” the filing alleges. “After this, Tomlinson reluctantly agreed to the hiring of Ms. Delo, who by then had given birth to her child, Olive, although he repeatedly griped about and spoke negatively about her, particularly when he saw Ms. Delo’s baby on Paul Taylor’s premises.”

Quickly, the filing says, the work environment got worse and worse.

After the infant was brought to the premises by Delo’s husband, she was reprimanded and later Tomlinson allegedly instituted a “no child on the premises” policy, according to the lawsuit. This newfangled policy, the filing alleges, stood in stark contrast to the years when a “male dancer was regularly bringing his child to the studio.”

Feeding her newborn baby was unlawfully stressful, the lawsuit alleges.

“Delo often exercised her right under the New York Labor Law and [the Fair Labor Standards Act] to pump breast milk,” the filing notes. “However, she had no choice but to do so at her desk in the shared production office. This itself was a violation of [Paul Taylor’s] legal obligations, because the Company failed to comply with the New York Labor Law and FLSA’s requirement that it provide a private space for mothers to express breast milk (unsurprising given management’s negative animus towards working mothers).”

Eventually, Delo filed human resources complaints about the apparent no-children policy and the lack of a private breast milk pumping space. Those efforts, the lawsuit claims, led to retaliation.

The lawsuit alleges, at length:

Just a few days after Ms. Delo sent her protected complaint email on December 3, 2021, Tomlinson intimidated and retaliated against Ms. Delo in a shocking and disgusting way. Knowing full well that she did not pump in a private room (having himself admitted that PTDC did not provide one), Tomlinson barged into her office with two male repairmen while Ms. Delo was pumping breast milk at her desk, without knocking on the sliding door…

With the repairmen still present, Tomlinson reached across Ms. Delo’s body (from the left to the right side) while she was still expressing milk, picked up her phone, then reached over her again with his other hand to dial a number, and began speaking to someone on the other end, all while hovering closely over Ms. Delo.

“As soon as there was a window when it would not disrupt Paul Taylor’s performance schedule and season, Tomlinson terminated Ms. Delo at the end of July 2022, which was the culmination of his hostility towards her because she was a mother and had forthrightly reported his discriminatory conduct and the violations of [Paul Taylor’s] legal obligation to provide a space for expressing breast milk,” the filing continues.

The lawsuit also rails against the alleged anti-woman climate at the dance company – and in the dance community in general – in broad strokes and warns of an in-progress “reckoning” for the industry.

“No doubt PTDC considers the extreme sexual harassment of its dancers merely a part of the artistic industry and something that dancers must put up with from the powerful and rich men who fuel fundraising and often run these organizations,” the lawsuit says. “An artistic mission is not a defense under the antidiscrimination laws (or, truly, any law). The theatre and performing arts industry must learn, as Hollywood is beginning to learn, that they are not above the antidiscrimination laws merely because their work involves artistic expression.”

The lawsuit seeks “significant” economic damages for six separate causes of action based on various New York State and federal laws.

Law&Crime reached out to the Paul Taylor Dance Company for comment on this story but no response was immediately forthcoming.

[image via TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images]

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