‘I Want People To Know What’s Happening To Women Like Me’: Sexual Harassment In Blue-Collar Texas

By Claire Ballor
The Dallas Morning News

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) The Dallas Morning News recently spoke with three women in blue-collar industries, industries often dominated by men, who say they suffered persistent sexual harassment and were punished for speaking up years before the #MeToo movement began.

The Dallas Morning News

The #MeToo movement began in a hail of accusations from famous women against powerful, well-known men.

But most women who suffer sexual harassment on the job, who lose work because they refuse a supervisor’s advances, who silently endure lewd comments and groping, aren’t famous and never will be.

Headlines have largely moved on from the stories that exposed high-power men and the women who came forward against them, but the problem of workplace sexual harassment persists, especially for those who have no voice and everything on the line.

The Dallas Morning News recently spoke with three women in blue-collar industries, industries often dominated by men, who say they suffered persistent sexual harassment and were punished for speaking up years before the #MeToo movement began.

Each of the women is or has been involved in litigation against her former employer, and all three are telling their stories publicly for the first time. Their experiences are similar, part of an increasingly familiar pattern of alleged harassment that has spurred women across the world to speak out for change.

“You’ve got to be tough as nails if you’re a woman in these environments,” said attorney Bobby Lee, who represents many women in the Dallas area who have alleged sexual harassment and is representing the three women who agreed to speak to The News.

“In a male-dominated type of environment like that, if you don’t go along with the stuff that goes on, then you no longer get the best treatment or the best training and you’re the first one to go,” he said.

‘Like you’re nothing’
It was 2014, and Jamietris Jones was working on the night shift for Trinity Industries in an East Texas rail yard.

Thirty-seven years old and a mother of four, Jones was used to working in jobs dominated by men, where crass and sexist comments often came her way. She figured she could hold her own. But what she said she experienced at Trinity was, in her word, “hell.”

Initially, she enjoyed her job with Trinity. But when she moved to a team where she was the only woman, sexual harassment became a daily experience, she said.

Male co-workers would shine flashlights on her rear end, laugh and talk about her body as she’d climb ladders to work on the tops of the train cars, she said.

Applying lip balm or eating lunch came with commentary about what sex acts her lips would be good for, so she started eating alone outside or putting on lip balm when no one was around, she said.

Co-workers asked her to have sex with them, she said. They’d describe things they wanted to do to her body and what parts they could imagine unclothed. Some would text her pictures of their genitals or try to show her pornography, she said.

Over and over, she asked them to stop. They responded that she must be on her period or not capable of handling the workplace, she said.

“It was every day. It was always how my jeans were fitting or what my crotch looked like in these kinds of pants,” she said. “It makes you feel like you’re nothing. You look at it like, OK, am I just some trash? Do I look easy? You begin to question even little things like what you wear.”

She became anxious getting ready for work. She would wear two shirts to hide her body. Her young children knew something was wrong even though she tried to put on a good face.

“You just want to come out here and work, you know? You do whatever you can to defuse the situation. You try to shrug it off, but when it becomes an everyday thing, you can’t just shrug it off anymore,” she said.

In July 2014, Jones reported sexual harassment to her managers and the human resources department at Trinity.

She said she was told she was probably misinterpreting things and that she should have known what she signed up for when taking this kind of job, she said. She begged to be moved to any other position within the company, even if it meant a pay cut. She was denied a reassignment, she said.

Human resources told her they’d investigate, which she said they did by telling her co-workers of her accusations, something she asked them not to do. The men denied any wrongdoing, and the investigation was dropped, according to Jones. That’s when the retaliation began, she said.

She filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in August 2014 and decided to take legal action.

Trinity Industries denied any wrongdoing in initial legal documents. Lee, Jones’ attorney, said the case recently settled for an amount he did not disclose. As part of that settlement, Jones signed a non-disclosure agreement and can no longer discuss the case. Her comments about her time at Trinity came prior to the settlement.

The company declined to comment on the lawsuit, but provided a written statement:

“Trinity Industries takes all allegations of harassment very seriously. We value our female workforce and their contributions to our Company’s success. In keeping with Trinity’s commitment to diversity, inclusion, and our strong core values, we do not and will not tolerate any conduct that infringes upon our employees’ right to a safe workplace free from harassment.”

Jones recalled that her job became far more difficult after she complained. Some of her co-workers refused to work with her, she said. They reported her to management for things like not wearing a safety vest, allegations she said were false.

In 2014, she failed to have the correct number of people on the railroad track while training another employee. Shortly thereafter, on Oct. 21, 2014 she was fired through a voicemail message and told she was out of a job because it wasn’t her first offense, she said. The other offenses cited were based on false reports from co-workers, she said.

A week after losing her job, financial tensions mounted. Jones’ husband of 16 years left her and their four young children. She and the kids bounced from apartment to apartment and paycheck to paycheck as Jones tried to keep them out of poverty.

Jones said she questioned her decision to report the harassment many times. But she’s no longer burdened by those thoughts.

“This is the reason why a lot of women don’t come forward because the loss is way bigger than the gain,” she said.

“You’re going to lose a whole lot. I lost a whole lot. But I want people to know what’s happening to women like me. I don’t want anyone else to go through this.”

‘I just wanted it to stop’
Tabitha Patterson’s hands tremble when she talks about the sexual harassment she said she endured at the hands of her supervisor at a manufacturing company in Dallas. Three years have passed, but the pain is fresh.

In February 2015, Patterson, 35, found a night shift job at Foam Fabricators in Keller through a temporary job agency. She liked the demanding work as a press operator, and, after 90 days, she was hired on full-time and given a raise.

Things were looking up for the single mother of two young children. But Patterson said her supervisor’s behavior grew increasingly inappropriate. What started as uncomfortable compliments about her looks evolved into vulgar comments and sexual behavior, she said.

On several occasions, Patterson said, she turned around and saw him making thrusting motions. When she stepped away from her workstation, he would dig in her gym bag for her underwear, she recalled. One day, she said, she walked into the warehouse to find him waving a pair above his head in front of co-workers.

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