Veteran wingman wants $1.75M from Boeing over emotional turbulence

Cites alleged ageist headwinds

A former Boeing employee has filed a brief for damages against the aerospace giant, seeking compensation of $1.75 million for emotional distress after allegedly suffering retaliation for speaking up against "targeting conduct" aimed at older workers.

Paul Bernal claims that toward the end of a long career at Boeing, he suffered what he described as "garden variety" emotional distress as a result of the alleged retaliation. In a November 17 memorandum [PDF], a lengthy list of symptoms were documented including anxiety, humiliation, depression, and loss of enjoyment of life.

The nature of "garden variety" emotional distress means only Bernal's testimony and that of other non-expert witnesses is required.

In a bench trial that ended earlier this month, Bernal was pursuing a claim against Boeing that it violated the retaliation provision of the Washington Law Against Discrimination when subjecting him to a hostile work environment and demoting him.

Boeing's alleged treatment of older employees is what caused his suffering, judging by an earlier amended complaint [PDF] filed by Bernal and Jack Coe in March. In the complaint, Bernal claimed poor treatment from a new manager fostered "a hostile work environment for BIPLC's [Boeing Intellectual Property Licensing Company] most senior employees."

This, according to Bernal, included "persistent, humiliating, and degrading comments related to their work, writing abilities, and dress."

After another manager was brought in, things allegedly took a further turn for the worse for senior staff. Bernal noted that within 18 months, every older worker on the new manager's team had been driven out and replaced by employees in their 20s and 30s.

Eventually, Bernal alleged that he warned his boss on July 19, 2018, that he'd go to HR if the harassment of older workers continued. He and his team had been asked to work more closely with the individual concerned, but mindful that he – and many of the incoming members of his team – were older employees, Bernal was worried that the hostile behavior would carry on.

According to Bernal, it did continue, culminating in a demotion less than a year later to a position reporting to the manager in question and an increasingly hostile working environment.

The result was the emotional distress – included eye spasms – for which Bernal made his claim.

Although the complaint is about emotional distress, the tech industry is no stranger to age discrimination. For example, in September IBM was hit by a lawsuit alleging that Big Blue targeted older employees in layoffs.

For its part, Boeing stated in its brief on Friday [PDF] that while Bernal had indeed been demoted, there was no salary reduction and suggested the court look outside Washington for examples of compensation for garden variety emotional distress should it find in favor of Bernal.

One case cited was considered by a New York court, and, despite the jury finding for the plaintiff, the eventual award was deemed excessive and reduced from $140,000 to $10,000.

As far as the aerospace giant was concerned, Bernal's role changes resulted from a reorganization within the group rather than any specific retaliation. ®

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