Rachel Noerdlinger was born on November 14, 1970 in Albuquerque, New Mexico and soon after was adopted by a white couple, Peter and Janau Noerdlinger. She grew up with four siblings, including another African-American child adopted by the Noerdlingers. Throughout Noerdlinger's childhood, her family moved from state to state to New Mexico, Michigan, California and Colorado, and internationally, to the Netherlands. Noerdlinger, whose black brother was also adopted, claims she felt isolated growing up in predominantly white neighborhoods around the U.S. and didn't develop a strong identity until enrolling in Mills College, an all-women's college in Oakland. In 1996 she penned a Washington Post op-ed arguing that black adoptees should be placed with white families only "as a last resort".
She attended the University of Denver from 1988-90 and graduated from Mills College in Oakland, California in 1992 with a bachelor's degree. She moved to New York City in 1993 after being accepted to Teachers College, Columbia University to work on her master's degree in Education.
Noerdlinger had spent the year before teaching in Gambia, West Africa as part of the Teachers for Africa Program with the intent to pursue a career in this field. However, during her first semester at Columbia, she dropped out and soon began an internship at the Terrie Williams Agency, one of the preeminent African-American public relations firms in the country.
A publicist, her clients have included lawyer Johnnie Cochran and civil rights activist Al Sharpton.
She is the President of Noerdlinger Media and Senior Vice President of Communications of the National Action Network.
While at Terrie Williams Agency, Noerdlinger had many clients in the fields of entertainment, sports, business, media and politics, but was most recognized for her work with Attorney Johnnie Cochran, whom she later served as a public relations advisor. She developed a strong relationship with one of Cochran's clients, Al Sharpton. She later moved to Sharpton's National Action Network. Her PR firm worked on the Sean Bell case, the Jena Six case, and the case of Megan Williams. She was also Press Secretary for Sharpton’s 2004 United States Democratic Presidential run. She has a weekly segment on Sharpton's radio show.
Noerdlinger Media's clients also include or have included The Cochran Firm; Paul B. Weitz and Associates; Lifflander and Reich, LLP; Rubenstein and Rynecki; and Sunshine Sachs Public Relations.
Noerdlinger was appointed by the mayor of New York City Bill de Blasio as the chief of staff to his wife, Chirlane McCray. Her annual salary was $170,000. Her appointment led to controversy over several incidents in her past. She was criticized for not disclosing in a background questionnaire that she lives with her boyfriend, Hassaun McFarlan, who has an extensive criminal record. Her home in Edgewater, New Jersey had a $28,190 federal tax lien placed on it in 2011 and her company, Noerdlinger Media Incorporated, had a tax warrant filed by New York State for $1,368. It was reported that she was paying both tax debts through a payment plan. She had an outstanding E-ZPass bill of more than $7,000 for unpaid tolls and related fees on two license plates, as well as nine parking tickets totaling $876, but was also paying those debts through a payment plan. Noerdlinger was granted a waiver to city employee residency rules by de Blasio for living in Edgewater, New Jersey because she said that her son, Khari, had suffered significant injuries from car accidents and needed to be near his doctors. De Blasio defended Noerdlinger as the victim of unfair scrutiny, comparing media attacks on her to McCarthyism.
Noerdlinger lives in Edgewater, New Jersey with her son and her partner, Hassaun McFarlan.
Noerdlinger took an unpaid leave of absence on November 18, 2014, a few days after her teenage son, Khari Noerdlinger, was arrested for criminal trespassing with his friends, two of whom were in possession of marijuana.