The Legal Aid Society filed six (6) complaints with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on behalf of a group of ethnically Chinese and Taiwanese frontline healthcare workers, who were employed as phlebotomists (blood-test nurses) by BioReference Laboratories, Inc. in Flushing, Brooklyn, and Chinatown, during the CoViD-19 pandemic.
The EEOC complaint alleges that the workers were forced to work in sweatshop-like conditions in overheated rooms for long hours, perform duties that were expressly against BioReference’s policy and are illegal for phlebotomists to fulfill, work overtime without pay for those hours, and perform CoViD-19 antibody tests temporarily at Grand Central Station under hostile working conditions. During the early months of the pandemic, the workers were also forced to work with inadequate PPE—including bloody, previously used gloves—which put them at additional risk of exposure to CoViD-19.
Moreover, one phlebotomist was expressly told by a senior manager at BioReference that she was not allowed to become pregnant within her first year at BioReference. Fearing for her job, she made efforts to hide her pregnancy and suffered an injury while performing her work duties. In another case, a worker was denied her earned sick leave. She died shortly thereafter.
“The insidious racism and discrimination that these ethnically Chinese workers have experienced at the hands of their employer, BioReference, Inc., is part and parcel of the same system of hatred and violence against the AAPI community that we have recently seen across the U.S., and which has long existed in this country,” said Carmela Huang, Supervising Attorney in the Employment Law Unit at The Legal Aid Society. “We must explicitly link these forms of racism, how they manifest, and the widespread impact on Asian communities. We will not stop fighting on behalf of the workers in this case until justice is delivered for the years of discrimination they endured.”
Despite BioReference Inc. receiving $150M in government contracts to perform antibody tests for New York State during the epicenter of the CoViD-19 outbreak in April 2020, the ethnically Chinese workers were paid significantly lower than their non-Chinese peers, and their wages were temporarily increased and then cut without notice in June 2020 despite a surge in the number of patients they were treating each day.
- Wendy Zhong began working as a phlebotomist at BioReference in November 1995. She worked among the company’s patient service centers (PSCs) in Chinatown, Manhattan before transitioning to work at PSCs in Flushing, Queens. EEOC complaint could be downloaded here.
- Yuan Sang began working as a phlebotomist at BioReference in March 2013 and works among the BioReference PSCs in Flushing.
- She volunteered to work at the Grand Central Station temporary patient center and was subject to particularly humiliating experiences of discrimination there. Sang became pregnant in Spring 2020 and felt at risk in a variety of ways – she didn’t have adequate PPE, the stations were extremely hot/without air conditioning, and she was still required to do all the extra work, which included lifting heavy boxes of supplies. The workers were afraid to complain and instead all came together and informally swapped tasks so that she would have less patient contact and have to do less heavy work. EEOC complaint could be downloaded here.
- H.L. began working as a phlebotomist in September 2017 and works among the PSCs in Chinatown and Sunset Park, Brooklyn. She was told she wasn’t allowed to become pregnant within one year of being hired and, when she did, hid her pregnancy until she almost miscarried doing heavy lifting that is arguably outside the job scope. She also worked closely with another ethnically Chinese phlebotomist* who died shortly after BioReference refused to allow her to take her earned sick leave. Charge of discrimination could be downloaded here.
*No EEOC complaint was filed on behalf of this worker, but BioReference was her first job after arriving in the U.S. and consequently felt particular rules-bound, continuing to work despite developing severe flu symptoms because her supervisor, Cathy Pan, refused to allow her to take sick leave. Pan told the worker (as well as all of the others) that BioReference required two weeks of prior notice before a worker could take any leave.
- Yu Jun Peng began working as a phlebotomist at BioReference in November 2019. She worked among the PSCs in Flushing, Queens until leaving her position in March 2021. She was also one of the workers who volunteered to work at Grand Central, where she was subject to humiliating and degrading treatment based on her ethnicity. EEOC complaint could be downloaded here.
- Yun Zheng began working as a phlebotomist at BioReference in March 2019 and works among the PSCs in Flushing, Queens. She also volunteered to work at Grand Central where she was subject to humiliating and degrading treatment based on her ethnicity. EEOC complaint could be downloaded here.
- Yan Ling Xu began working at BioReference in 2009 and worked among the PSCs in Chinatown, Manhattan before she left her position in November 2020. EEOC complaint could be downloaded here.
All of these women identify as ethnically Chinese. They either work or worked at PSCs that are under the management and supervision of Dr. Anthony Hu and Ms. Cathy (Xiao Ping) Pan. The workers have prior experience in medicine or other caretaking positions. Several were experienced nurses before moving to the United States and taking phlebotomist positions at BioReference in order to provide for their families.
The EEOC complaint includes claims for disparate treatment on the basis of their national origin. Specifically, the workers allege that BioReference violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL), and the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) by requiring them to perform additional duties that are beyond the scope of their jobs that non-Chinese employees were not required to perform, paying them less than similarly-situated employees who were not ethnically Chinese, and subjecting them to a hostile work environment. Separately, our clients have claims under New York Labor Law for wage discrimination on the basis of their national origin(s) as well as for BioReference’s denial of appropriate overtime pay.
About The Legal Aid Society
The Legal Aid Society exists for one simple yet powerful reason: to ensure that New Yorkers are not denied their right to equal justice because of poverty. For over 140 years, we have protected, defended, and advocated for those who have struggled in silence for far too long. Every day, in every borough, The Legal Aid Society changes the lives of our clients and helps improve our communities.
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