Sheila White is an employment discrimination whistleblower who took her case against railway giant Burlington Northern & Santa Fe all the way to the Supreme Court.
In June of 1997, she was the only woman working in the Maintenance of Way Department at BNSF’s Tennessee Yard. While she was hired originally as a “track laborer”, her duties soon expanded to operating the forklift.
In September that year, White complained to BNSF officials that her immediate supervisor had made repeated derogatory and inappropriate remarks to her in front of colleagues and suggested that women should not be working in the department.
While her boss was suspended and ordered to attend sexual harassment training, White was removed from forklift duty. She then filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), claiming the reassignment of duties constituted gender-based discrimination and retaliation.
This began a ten-year legal journey that culminated on June 22, 2006 when the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in her favor in Burlington Northern & Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway Co. v. White. It was a landmark case that revised the standard for retaliation against a sexual harassment complaint and has had far-reaching impact on labor laws. Speaking about her case this year, Sheila joked, “I have caused the greatest train wreck in history.”
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Watch the video of her speech here: