Last year, when costume designer Barbara Delo received an invitation to join the Paul Taylor Dance Company, one of New York’s most prominent dance companies, she believed she had gotten her dream job. However, she quickly started to feel uncomfortable.
Delo, 32, who had recently given birth to her first child, said that she thought she was constantly discriminated against by her employer due to her status as a mother. According to her, the firm did not provide her with a private room to express breast milk, as required by state law, and its executive director showed annoyance when her daughter accompanied her on corporate visits.
She was terminated in July after less than a year of employment, she claimed.
Delo filed a complaint against her former employer and its executive director, John Tomlinson, in Manhattan’s Federal District Court on Thursday, alleging that she was unlawfully terminated. She cites a hostile work atmosphere that caused her “emotional and bodily suffering” in the lawsuit.
Delo said in an interview, “They made me feel so terrible and so useless.” That since I had become a mother, I was somehow less competent at my profession.
After receiving many requests for comment on Thursday, Paul Taylor Dance Company, named after the famed contemporary dance choreographer, did not comment on the case.
The debate involves concerns of maternity in the workplace that have persisted in the dance profession, where many women report feeling pressured to postpone birth in order to avoid ruining their generally brief careers as dancers.
Delo is not the first former employee to allege discrimination against Paul Taylor Dance Company. Stacey-Jo Marine, 54, a production manager who left the firm in May after submitting a complaint of verbal harassment, recently filed a lawsuit with the New York State Division of Human Rights alleging that she was driven out of her position due to her gender.
The business has refuted the allegations made by Marine, which are also included in Delo’s case. In response to Marine’s lawsuit with the state, the company’s attorneys said that she did not raise concerns about gender discrimination during her employment there, and that she willingly resigned.
Delo said that her problems began in September 2021, shortly after she started her $78,000-per-year job.
Tomlinson, the executive director, allegedly reprimanded Delo in a meeting for bringing her baby daughter to Washington on a corporate visit. According to the complaint, Tomlinson said during the meeting that the corporation maintained a tight “separation of faith and state” regarding family affairs and that children were not permitted in the workplace because they may be distracting.
Delo said in her claim that her husband, who also worked for the firm, was not subject to similar criticism when he brought his daughter to work. According to Wigdor, a New York agency that represents her, Delo accompanied her daughter on eight corporate visits. Marine, who assisted in Delo’s hiring, supported portions of her story in an interview, stating that she remembered seeing Tomlinson refer to Delo as a “responsibility” because she was a mother.
According to the complaint, after a couple of months on the job, Delo enquired about the company’s regulations on pumping breast milk in the workplace and presented a copy of New York State legislation protecting the rights of nursing mothers. Tomlinson answered via email, “I have no reservations about it, our firm has no policy relating to it, and our company is happy with your activities and New York State’s laws.” However, Delo said that her employer did not offer a private area for her to pump.
According to the complaint, shortly after the email conversation, Tomlinson stopped Delo as she was pumping breast milk at her workstation in what Delo saw as revenge. Tomlinson, according to Delo, brought in repairmen and at one point leaned over her to make a phone call. She said that Tomlinson’s conduct had made it impossible for her to express breast milk due to worry.
She said in the interview, “I felt like I was failing not just in my career, but also as a mother since I was unable to feed my kid.”
Delo said that she was never provided a justification for her termination beyond the fact that she was unqualified for the position. She said that dancing companies must do more to protect and support women.