After being honored as one of BNSF’s employees of the year in 2021 for her efforts in supporting LGBTQ+ workers, Randi Berghorst, a former BNSF worker with 30 years of service, has filed a lawsuit against the railroad.
Berghorst claims she was denied advancement opportunities following her gender transition, despite being regularly promoted earlier in her career.
Expressing her disappointment, Berghorst stated, “I’m extremely disappointed that this is where it had to go.”
BNSF has not directly commented on the lawsuit; a formal response has yet to be submitted in court.
BNSF hiring process not based on gender identity and sexual orientation
However, BNSF spokesperson Lena Kent defended the company’s hiring practices, emphasizing that BNSF does not discriminate based on gender identity and sexual orientation.
Kent cited the PRIDE+ employee group, which Berghorst helped establish, as evidence of BNSF’s commitment to a diverse and inclusive workplace.
Recognition to rejection, Berghorst struggles to secure interviews
Berghorst still proudly displays the plaque given to her by BNSF, recognizing her significant impact on the company’s diversity and inclusion journey.
However, she noted a stark contrast in her job prospects after receiving the award.
Despite her impressive resume, Berghorst struggled to secure interviews for over a dozen positions she applied for.
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From promotion to transition, a significant change in Berghorst’s career
This was a notable change from earlier in her career when she experienced regular promotions before her gender transition in 2018.
Berghorst revealed that some of the jobs she applied for were positions she had previously held, receiving positive feedback from her supervisors.
Having climbed the ranks to several management positions, she stepped back from her demanding roadmaster job in 2016 due to mental health challenges and the impending gender transition.
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Berghorst faces obstacles in an attempt to return to previous job
According to Berghorst’s lawyer, Nick Thompson, roadmasters are not unfamiliar with people temporarily demanding leave for personal reasons.
However, Thompson, whose law firm specializes in representing railroad workers, expressed surprise at Berghorst’s obstacles when attempting to return to her previous job.
Berghorst claimed that human resources officials needed to explain why she was being overlooked. She stated that the representative she spoke with needed help identifying any deficiencies in her qualifications.
Berghorst overlooked despite eight years managerial experience
One particularly troubling incident involved Berghorst applying for a training position.
Despite her reputation for teaching others throughout her career and possessing over eight years of managerial experience, she was denied an interview.
Later, the job requirements were modified to demand only three years of management experience, and two less experienced men were hired.
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Anybody but Berghorst, BNSF lowers job requirement
“They didn’t have any people besides me — or any people they wanted — that had over five years, so they had to lower the requirements to get somebody,” Berghorst revealed.
These experiences led Berghorst to explore filing a discrimination complaint against BNSF.
Eventually, she applied for her current position as an inspector with the Federal Railroad Administration, based in Woodstock, Illinois.
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A challenging decision for Berghorst
Deciding to leave BNSF in January was challenging for Berghorst.
“I made that decision after it seemed things were going nowhere with BNSF,” she explained.
“And I had my 30 years in, so I was locked into the railroad retirement.”
Berghorst’s fight for justice and change in BNSF
In her lawsuit, Berghorst seeks damages, but her primary goal is to prompt BNSF to enact change.
BNSF, owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway conglomerate in Omaha, Nebraska, operates with limited intervention from Buffett, who allows the railroad to run primarily independently.
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