The family of Boeing whistleblower John Barnett has spoken out following his death
The family of Boeing whistleblower John Barnett has spoken out following his death

The mother of John Barnett, a former Boeing quality manager turned whistleblower who died earlier this month, told CBS News that he holds aircraft giant responsible for the grueling treatment that ultimately left her son desperate.

“If it hadn’t gone on for so long, I’d still have my son and my sons would still have their brother and we wouldn’t be sitting here.” So in that respect I do,” Vicki Stokes said when asked if she placed some of the blame for her son’s death on Boeing.

Barnett was in Charleston, South Carolina, testifying in his whistle-blowing lawsuit against the embattled aerospace company when he was found dead in his car in his hotel parking lot on March 9. He was 62.

Police are still investigating his death, which the medical examiner called an apparent suicide, just before he resumed testifying against Boeing, which he has repeatedly accused of ignoring safety issues.

Stokes and her son Rodney Barnett said CBS News in its first televised interview that they want to see John Barnett’s legacy fighting for the safety of flying humans preserved.

“He thought to himself that he was trying to do the right thing. And it bothered him that no one wanted to listen to what was going on there,” his brother, Rodney Barnett, told CBS News.

John Barnett has worked at Boeing for 32 years, the last seven of which he served as a quality manager. He became an informant at the South Carolina factory that builds the 787 Dreamliner. He resigned from the company in 2017, citing work-related stress.

During this time, he developed concerns about the way the company operated. Before resigning, he filed an administrative complaint with the Health and Safety Directorate. The agency said it had no good reason to believe Boeing violated whistleblower laws. He then filed a lawsuit in 2021 citing a number of safety concerns. Among them: stray titanium shavings getting into the electrical wiring, faulty oxygen tanks and managers urging him to cut corners.

Rodney Barnett said his brother told him that instead of addressing his concerns, the company subjected him to retaliation for speaking out, claiming he was “embarrassed in meetings; will be summoned’. Rodney said his brother wasn’t the type to back down.

In the 2022 Netflix documentary Downfall: The Case Against Boeing, John Barnett claims his managers retaliated against him for speaking out.

“Boeing stopped listening to their employees. So every time I raised my hand and said, ‘hey, we’ve got a problem here,’ they attacked the messenger and … and ignored the message,” he said in the film.

Boeing has denied both the allegations of safety problems and allegations that the company retaliated against Barnett. The company said in a statement to CBS News: “We are saddened by Mr. Barnett’s passing and our thoughts are with his family and friends.”

His death came amid litigation and came as Boeing grappled with weeks of negative headlines about its safety culture — specifically, recurring problems with its 737 Max jets. including blowing out the door plug on an Alaska Airlines plane.

John Barnett worked on another plane but raised similar concerns, according to his attorneys Brian Knowles and Rob Turkewitz.

“He wasn’t trying to hurt Boeing,” said Turkewitz, who told CBS News he believes whistleblower laws that apply to aerospace workers should be strengthened. “He was trying to save Boeing. He saw that and said, “You know, this is all going to come down to Boeing.”

Barnett’s family told CBS News they are trying to pursue whistleblower John Barnett’s lawsuit, which is expected to go to trial in September. Knowles said continuing the case is about “fairness and accountability.”

Amid the ongoing image and safety crisis, Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun announced that he would retire at the end of 2024

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