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Trans employee sues Boeing over harassment and discrimination

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Rachel Rasmussen — Courtesy photo
Rachel Rasmussen — Courtesy photo

For 35 years, Rachel Rasmussen worked as an employee of Boeing, the world's largest passenger aircraft manufacturer. When she started her job, she was a bright-faced 20-year-old looking for a way to earn a living. Despite her naivete, the entire crew welcomed her with open arms into an environment she recalled as "super friendly."

Over the next 20 years, Rassmussen enjoyed her work and moved up at the company, eventually becoming a crane mechanic. Then, everything changed when she began presenting as her true self: a Trans woman.

"The first thing I noticed as I started transition was [that] people refused to work with me," Rassmussen said to the SGN. "I had never experienced that before transition. Then, jokes — anti-Gay jokes. When I first came out, there were Gay jokes, mocking a female voice over the radio, just people [saying] how angry they were that Washington State was planning to ban conversion therapy. Why come up to me and tell me how horrible it is to lose that? Just the permissiveness of all that, it led to the sexual assault."

The abuse Rasmussen faced was ongoing. It began with verbal accusations, probing questions about her transition and personal life, the use of the F-slur in a diversity training exercise, and taunts and jabs about Queer and Trans identities, all while supervisors looked on but said nothing. Soon, the verbal assaults became physical. In one instance, a coworker groped her. In another instance, another sexually assaulted her with a broomstick.

Rebuffed by HR
Each time Rasmussen reported her harassment to HR, and was either dismissed or blamed for somehow encouraging the abuse simply by existing. "I engaged HR right off the bat. That's the rule at the company, so I was following their own rules," Rasmussen recalled. "I had never reported to HR before transition. I didn't even know my second-level manager before I transitioned."

Despite the dismissals, she continued to report each incident, hoping, eventually, something would change within the company. It never did. "It felt like gaslighting. I would be told sometimes that it was my fault or that I just needed to let people get used to me. It felt dismissive," she said.

Boeing's HR not only blamed Rasmussen for the abuse she suffered but also made excuses for her coworkers. "They would put the burden on me to make everyone else comfortable with me," she said. The department also justified outing her to new hires. "When I objected to that and said it puts me in danger, [HR] responded that it's no different than saying someone is Black or a woman," Rasmussen added.

Feeling abandoned
The job she once loved was slowly turning into a nightmare for Rasmussen. Her days became lonelier as former work friends now refused to talk with her or work alongside her. When some coworkers were willing to stand in solidarity with Rasmussen, they also faced harassment. "There was somebody who did stand up for me, and they put a Trans rights sticker on their locker. The next day, their locker was beaten over the sticker, and there were broomsticks laid against their locker." This occurred shortly after the aforementioned broomstick assault.

The employees at Boeing knew their behavior was wrong. They could see the weight their constant bullying put on Rassmussen's shoulders, but they never did anything to stop it. "I vividly remember a coworker telling me that he knows what is happening to me is wrong, but because it didn't affect him, he wasn't going to say anything," she said. "It made me feel like I'm drowning in a lake, and someone is standing there with a life preserver, and they're not going to throw it to me. I felt completely abandoned."

Eventually, Rasmussen left the operations department for a new position with the company's diversity, equity, and inclusion department. Rassmussen took the position to help increase the representation of women in Boeing's workforce and to escape the harassment she faced daily. "I wasn't harassed in DEI the way I was [before]," she said.

Her new job was short-lived, however. Just two years in, the company laid her off with little explanation as to why.

"I have seen Boeing openly move people around. They could have easily positioned me somewhere else. I had no reason to expect that they wouldn't," Rasmussen said.

After losing her DEI position, she applied for 29 other jobs with Boeing, mostly mechanic jobs like the one she'd held for over two decades. She knew it inside and out and also knew there was a high demand to fill more mechanic positions — the company was even offering $10,000 in referrals to cover the cost of relocation. "I applied for the role, I passed a proctor exam for it, but I couldn't get through the interview," she said.

Samuel Corum / Sipa / AP  

Legal action
Now, Rasmussen is taking legal action against the company. "Boeing, over and over again, has made hollow and empty commitments about protecting her and other employees," Jay Free, Rasmussen's attorney, said. "I hope this lawsuit finally encourages them to turn those empty promises into action.

"This lawsuit arises from the Washington law against discrimination. You cannot mistreat somebody based on their gender identity, their gender, or their sexual orientation. That's the web of it."

"Everyone should feel safe at work and be able to address any concerns and not [suffer] retaliation for raising a concern," Rassmussen added. "I want the culture to be one of respect and dignity for everybody. There really should be zero tolerance for harassment. Boeing says there is zero tolerance, but there is a lot of tolerance for harassment."

After 32 years, six months, and two days working for Boeing, Rassmussen doesn't know what she'll do next. "It changed who I am. I don't trust people. I lost friendships. It's been devastating. I don't enjoy life the way I used to. To be targeted for who I am, I don't feel safe in the world anymore," she admitted.

"That's exactly why Rachel is bringing this lawsuit, so people like her can report to work free from harassment and be who they are," Free added. "I hope this lawsuit can create an environment where women, Gay employees, and Trans employees can feel safe coming to work."