When Being Assigned Janitorial Duties Isn’t Just Discouraging, It’s Discrimination: Menial Tasks and Hostile Work Environment Claims in New York

There are lots of different ways that you might experience race discrimination at work. These can run the gamut from a noose in your workspace to subtle things like being treated less respectfully than your white colleagues. If you believe you have endured some of these more subtle forms of discrimination, you should definitely take action. Start by getting in touch with an experienced New York City race discrimination lawyer to go over your case.

Most anyone who’s started a new job understands how the process often works. Whether you’re dubbed the “newbie,” the “rookie”, the “probie” or otherwise, you’re likely going to be assigned some undesirable tasks. However, when your employer assigns you those duties, not because you’re the newbie, but rather because you’re Black (or a member of any other protected class,) that’s more than annoying… it’s illegal.

D.G. was a Black man whose race discrimination lawsuit was one of those types of cases. He was a certified professional who found himself doing some very low-level tasks, while his coworkers were not.

After several years of unsuccessful applications where the hospital hired a non-Black candidate, D.G. finally, in 2014, landed a part-time radiologic technologist position.

Unfortunately, that success proved to be tainted. In addition to completing his regular duties, he was required to mop the floor, take out the trash, and clean the operating room. The white radiologic technologists were not required to perform these janitorial tasks. That, according to the federal district court, was enough to make for a viable claim of a racially hostile work environment.

The Importance of ‘Similarly Situated’ Coworkers to Your Discrimination Case

There are various ways to win a claim of a racially hostile work environment. One is to convincingly demonstrate that you were treated less well than other similarly situated coworkers who were outside your protected (race, sex, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, etc.) class.

D.G.’s case had that, according to the judge. The non-Black coworkers he used as comparators (who were all fellow radiologic technologists) were employees who were “sufficiently similar in all material respects.”

It’s important to recognize that “radiologic technologist” was not simply a job title that the hospital slapped on a group of low-level workers. On the contrary, all radiologic technologists, including D.G., were required to obtain state certification and complete “clinical training and classroom instruction, with courses in anatomy and physiology, patient care procedures, radiation physics, radiation protection, principles of imaging, medical terminology, positioning of patients, medical ethics, radiobiology, and pathology.” People like D.G. were accomplished professionals.

Even though there inevitably would have been differences of seniority among the various radiologic technologists, the judge ruled that this couldn’t reasonably explain D.G.’s treatment. The judge found that it strained credulity “to imagine that the presence of more senior technicians in the workplace could, under any circumstance, relegate the most junior technician to performing janitorial duties like mopping the floor.”

More Mistreatment of Black Professionals Via the Assignment of Menial Tasks

D.G.’s win follows a line of cases in the federal Eastern District of New York where the courts have said that the inappropriate assignment of menial tasks can be the basis of a valid claim of a racially hostile work environment. In 2019, the court confronted a race discrimination case that was particularly similar to D.G.’s.

There, a Black female doctor in Staten Island, who was the first Black female fellow hired to work in her hospital’s pathology department, found herself performing numerous mundane tasks like taking out the trash, rearranging bookshelves and their contents, transporting nitrogen tanks, cleaning out the refrigerator, cleaning off her supervisor’s desk, and filing her supervisor’s mail. In ruling for the Black doctor, the court explained that being “made to perform janitorial services and denied recognition for an earned medical degree could be deemed as” sufficiently humiliating to amount to a hostile work environment.

Just like there are all different types of people of color, there is also a wide variety of forms of workplace discrimination based on race. Not everything is as clear-cut as a supervisor who routinely addresses you using the N-word or occasionally drops a noose on your computer as “a joke.” Even if it’s something as subtle as treating your white colleagues as esteemed and dignified professionals while demeaningly treating you (and others of your race) like you’re merely “the help,” it’s still against the law in New York. The knowledgeable New York race discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates understand that all types of race discrimination at work are wrong. We’ve helped countless workers who’ve faced harm similar to yours, and we’re ready to go to work helping you. To find out more, contact us online or at (212) 248-7431 today to set up a free and confidential consultation.

Contact Information