Randi Berghorst says she was hailed for years as an exemplary employee at BNSF Railway, winning positions that carried "significant supervisory and managerial responsibilities" — when she identified as a man.

Now the Luverne, Minn., resident is suing BNSF for alleged discrimination, charging that the company that employed her for 30 years has turned her down several times for promotion ever since she became a transgender woman five years ago.

"She is suing BNSF more than anything out of principle, because she knows that many people like her are not so fortunate," said Nick Thompson, an attorney representing Berghorst.

Thompson said they are seeking a jury trial because Berghorst's case carries bigger implications in the fight for equal rights for transgender workers, "and there's no better way to do that than through the jury system."

Lena Kent, a spokeswoman for Texas-based BNSF, said she could not comment on pending litigation. But she said the company is "committed to a diverse and inclusive workplace" and that its employee-led diversity councils include a group of LGBTQ workers offering professional development "and a forum to educate and raise awareness to improve diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging for LGBTQ employees within BNSF Railway."

In the lawsuit filed last month in federal court in Minnesota, Berghorst said she is suing BNSF for "damages arising from loss of income" she suffered when her employer "refused to hire or unreasonably excluded her from consideration for employment."

Berghorst alleges that BNSF turned her down for numerous promotions for which she was qualified, instead hiring less-qualified cisgender men for those positions. She alleges the company rejected her for those positions because she came out as transgender.

According to the complaint, BNSF hired Berghorst in 1992 as a track laborer. She says she moved into increasingly senior union-level positions until she was promoted to a salaried position in 2004 as assistant roadmaster, a supervisory job. She worked in manager-level positions for the following 12 years.

Berghorst says she suffered "serious" mental health problems in 2016 that forced her to take a step back in the ranks to work as a track inspector. She began to transition in 2018 and told her multiple supervisors and co-workers about it, according to the complaint.

The charges say that she has applied for 15 jobs at BNSF since May 2021, including managerial jobs she had held before. She claims that the company refused to even interview her for the jobs.

Berghorst contends BNSF violated her rights and is asking the federal court to find the company in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Minnesota Human Rights Act, which bars discrimination on the basis of sex and gender.

Among the various forms of relief she's seeking, Berghorst is asking the court for compensatory damages for loss of income and benefits, punitive damages and awards to cover mental anguish and legal fees.

"The suicide rates of people who transition are already enormous," Thompson said. "It's an incredibly stressful and emotionally trying thing anyways, and so to then not have your employer support you is just another piece of straw. And Randi wants to make sure the straw is not put on anybody else."