TSA agent Robert Henry jumped to his death inside the Orlando International Airport in February. Afterward, agents came forward to say Henry was bullied at work and that Transportation Security Administration has a toxic work environment.
An investigation from NPR member station WMFE in Orlando found dozens of TSA workers across the country with similar stories of workplace harassment and retaliation.
One of those agents, Alison Demzon is a transgender woman working at Denver International Airport. In 2017, a new supervisor began misgendering her over and over again.
“He looks over and goes, ‘Hey Al, why don’t you come over, rather than Alison,’” she said.
In October of 2018 a disabled woman in a wheelchair didn’t want Demzon to do a pat down because she was transgender. Afterwards, her supervisor berated her.
“Eventually, with all that building on top of each other, I just couldn’t take it anymore,” Demzon said. “I just fell apart and started crying all over the place and had to be sent home.”
Demzon was hospitalized on suicide watch. She had two previous suicide attempts before working at TSA.
Demzon returned to work after she passed a fitness for duty test two-and-a-half months later.
Demzon filed an equal employment opportunity complaint against TSA in 2018 saying she was discriminated against because she was transgender. She is far from the only one.
TSA had more than 400 EEOC complaints filed in 2018.
Christine Griggs is with TSA’s office of Civil Rights & Liberties. She said the number of TSA complaints is down and more are resolved before becoming legal cases.
She says TSA has a very similar number of complaints as Customs and Border Patrol, which has a similar number of employees.
“So if you take that 400 number, and you look at all of our employees as a whole, it represents a little bit less than 1 percent of our total population of employees,” she said.
Griggs says now TSA is rolling out suicide prevention training. She said she was shocked to hear Robert Henry wrote in his suicide note “Tell my managers I’ll be waiting for them in hell?
“I mean, it’s heartbreaking,” Griggs said. “It’s really heartbreaking that someone would get to that point in their life and more importantly there wasn’t somewhere along the line that we could have avoided that, that we as a family could have avoided that. So it’s shocking to me.”
Former Transportation Security Officer Becky also worked at Denver International Airport.
The station is not using her last name because she filed a case with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and hopes a successful outcome will allow her to return to work for the federal government.
Becky says taking time off for a medical procedure kicked off a year of harassment and retaliation.
“They don’t look at us like we’re people,” she said. “They just look at us like we’re ants in a giant hill and they step on us whenever they feel like it.”
She missed months of work without pay and was eventually fired. That sent her down a dark path, and she was hospitalized twice in the next three months for suicide attempts.
She says she immediately related when she heard about Robert Henry’s suicide in Orlando.
“My heart just broke into a million pieces,” Becky said. “Because I was there and I could have been him (Rob Henry).”
Now, Becky is packing kitchen gadgets into a big amazon box before her home is sold. She needs the money to pay for her lawyer.
“It’s very expensive $350 an hour,” she said. “So I have to sell my house and find somewhere else to go.”
For Alison Demzon, she says lawmakers overseeing TSA have to stop playing politics.
“People are dying,” she said. “It’s that simple.”
Demzon is back working at Denver International. She spoke about her experiences during suicide awareness month. She says afterwards, ten or more TSA officers came forward and asked for help.
If you or someone you know is depressed or thinking about suicide call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.