Traffic moves along Highway 526 in front of Boeing’s Everett Production Facility on Monday, Nov. 28, 2022 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Traffic moves along Highway 526 in front of Boeing’s Everett Production Facility on Monday, Nov. 28, 2022 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Everett transgender mechanic alleges Boeing treated her ‘like a zoo animal’

For years, Boeing allowed toxicity “to fester and grow” at its Everett factory, according to Rachel Rasmussen, an employee from 1989 to 2024.

EVERETT — For years Rachel Rasmussen felt working at Boeing was exciting, welcoming, even effortless.

As far as her coworkers knew, she wrote, she was a “straight white guy.”

“For over 20 years, when she presented as male and used a male name, Rachel felt safe,” according to a federal lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Seattle. “But that changed in 2010 — when she began transitioning to live consistent with her gender identity.”

In the decade that followed, the Everett-based crane mechanic said her all-male team of coworkers subjected her to relentless harassment, hateful slurs and, in one case, a sexual assault while on the job. She says Boeing managers ignored or excused many of her reports, or even participated in the harassment, despite company policies banning the behavior.

Rachel Rasmussen (Provided by Court records)

Rachel Rasmussen (Provided by Court records)

“Time and again leadership would go, ‘What do you want us to do?’” Rasmussen said Thursday in an interview. “And I would go, ‘It’s not my job to solve that.’”

A Boeing spokesperson declined to comment on the lawsuit Thursday.

Rasmussen, a former carpenter and lifelong Washingtonian, began her career with Boeing in 1989, assigned to the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber program. In 2007, she was promoted to crane mechanic. She worked in Everett, where none of her coworkers knew she identified as a woman.

After she came out, she endured a hostile work environment where Boeing “allowed the toxicity to fester and grow,” her 17-page civil complaint alleges.

Rasmussen recounted dozens of incidents.

Among them:

• Coworkers vandalizing her property, “shouldering against her” in hallways and playing the Aerosmith song “Dude (Looks Like a Lady)” on repeat in front of Rasmussen;

• An employee saying he wanted to “self-identify as a horse” and later yelling a slur at Rasmussen and others.

• A team leader campaigning to remove her from the team;

• A manager “injecting anti-gay sentiment into the workplace, including telling homophobic ‘jokes.’”

• A direct supervisor “unfairly and unjustifiably” targeting her with discipline and removing her from “prestigious job duties.”

Rasmussen noted Boeing policy prohibits employees from “unwanted outing,” but even her manager would tell employees about her transgender identity.

“Seems that I am now part of new employee orientation,” Rasmussen wrote to the company in 2013. “When someone comes to our shop they are told there is the time clock, restroom is over there, and oh, Rachel used to be a guy. People wonder why I don’t feel accepted.”

“I feel like a zoo animal,” she reported a few months later.

Rachel (third from left) and her all-male Crane Mechanic team in 2015. (Provided by Court records)

Rachel (third from left) and her all-male Crane Mechanic team in 2015. (Provided by Court records)

According to the lawsuit, Boeing’s Human Resources “minimized the Harassment, framing it as a ‘personality conflict,’ including claiming that ‘we can’t force employees to like you or speak to you.”

She felt the onus of her workplace safety and security “all fell on me.”

The most egregious example came in January 2019, she said. She had stopped to talk with two electricians in the 45-04 paint hangar in Everett. A longtime coworker approached her from behind and shoved a stick between her legs, according to a complaint recounted in court papers. One of the electricians shouted, “What the (expletive)!” Rasmussen also called the man out, she wrote.

The man reportedly laughed and said it was an accident.

Months later, she reported the incident to the company. Boeing suspended the worker for one day — the same punishment Rasmussen had received for parking tickets, the complaint says. The coworker was reassigned to Renton, but he later requested to be transferred north again, Rasmussen said.

“And when they returned that person to work, they told me I had to get a restraining order to not have to work with that person,” Rasmussen said Thursday.

In Snohomish County Superior Court papers, she wrote: “This restraining order is needed for my employer (Boeing) to make arrangements where I do not have to work around, attend events or participate in training with him.”

The coworker maintained, in a sworn statement, that he and Rasmussen had been good friends and that the incident was an accident. He claimed he had been bouncing a painter’s pole on the floor, when it hit his foot and “likely hit” Rasmussen before landing on the floor.

“It makes me sick and sad to think Rachel believes I sexually assaulted her,” the man wrote.

After a one-hour bench trial, Judge George Appel found Rasmussen’s report credible and barred the coworker from any contact with Rasmussen for five years through a sexual assault protection order.

“But, even today, this assailant still works at Boeing — signaling to employees that harassment is accepted,” wrote Rasmussen’s attorneys, Jay Free and Beth Bloom, in the lawsuit.

A Boeing employee left a “Trans Rights” sticker on a locker, in response to Rachel Rasmussen’s report that a coworker sexually assaulted her with a broomstick, according to a federal lawsuit. Other employees reportedly placed broomsticks next to the locker in an act of harassment. (Court records)

A Boeing employee left a “Trans Rights” sticker on a locker, in response to Rachel Rasmussen’s report that a coworker sexually assaulted her with a broomstick, according to a federal lawsuit. Other employees reportedly placed broomsticks next to the locker in an act of harassment. (Court records)

“To escape” further harassment, the complaint says, Rasmussen transferred to a lower-paying job on Boeing’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion team in 2021. She lost her union job and seniority. And her new position was eliminated earlier this year.

Rasmussen then applied for at least 29 jobs at Boeing. The company, however, only offered entry-level positions and declined to hire her in “many jobs for which she was overqualified.”

“Rather than changing its culture to emphasize safety, Boeing forced out a good employee who refused to stay silent about employee rights,” according to the complaint.

The plaintiff is seeking back pay, attorney fees and unspecified damages to be proven at trial.

Boeing had not responded to any of the claims in court as of this week.

“Over and over in this case, we’ve seen that Boeing has made hollow promises,” Free said in an interview Thursday.

One major goal of the case, Free added, is to “force Boeing to change its culture” and foster a work environment where employees feel they can speak up.

“I know the intersectionality of being LGBTQ and female made it unbearable for me to feel safe in my job,” Rasmussen said. “I know other women struggled too. Coming forward is an attempt to try to make this better for everybody.”

Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; chutton@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @snocaleb.

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