Rhonda Hole has been walking regularly on the Trinity Trails near her Fort Worth neighborhood and has lost 40 pounds in the past year. Last week, she was traipsing those trails near East Belknap Street and topped over a river embankment into Riverside Park, near Oakhurst Scenic Drive, just east of I-35.
She heard someone yelling and stopped to listen for a moment. “Sooey! Sooey! Sooey!”
Hole turned and saw four workmen standing near a trailer and laughing about 20 feet away. On top of the trailer was a Bobcat utility vehicle. Inside the Bobcat sat a man yelling the word that pig farmers use to call livestock. “The ‘sooey’ didn’t stop,” Hole said. “I turned and looked, and [the man yelling] was looking straight in my eyes.”
She was confused. “For a moment, I was like, ‘What does this mean?’ ” Hole said.
Clarity came quickly. “He was saying I looked like a pig,” she said. “I was humiliated. It was embarrassing.”
Her first reaction was fear. “It made me feel really vulnerable,” she said. “There were five of them. It made me feel unsafe.”
She fished out her phone and pointed it toward the crew.
“When I took the phone out, everything went quiet,” she said.
Some of the men turned their backs to her, she said, and the man inside the Bobcat quit yelling but kept laughing. She took several photos.
Hole’s embarrassment turned to anger after she left. She looked at her photos and noticed the men’s vests emblazoned their company name. Hole called the Scenic Bluff Neighborhood Association and was told the crew worked for the Tarrant Regional Water District, a government agency that oversees water management and flood control.
This week, however, I called water district spokesperson Chad Lorance, who said the company has worked as a contractor for the district in the past but not since November 2017.
JPI, a real estate company, is preparing land nearby for new apartments. On Tuesday, Hole and I went to the site and located a supervisor, Don Moore. Hole explained what happened and showed him photos of the work crew. Moore confirmed that the crew had been sub-contracted to do work for JPI that day. Hole pointed to the man in the picture who she said verbally abused her.
Moore said he would notify company leaders and something would be done. “We do not allow heckling of any kind,” Moore said. “This is not something that stands well with the company or me. I have daughters. This is totally inexcusable. We don’t allow that in our work environment. We have 300 employees, and half of them are women.”
His conviction was evident.
“You sound sincere,” Hole said.
“Oh, I am real sincere,” Moore said.
Hole and I headed back to our cars, and I asked how she felt.
“I feel better about what [Moore] had to say and the position that JPI has concerning this contractor,” she said. “I’m still concerned about this company because they work across the state, and this behavior is unchecked even though the owners are aware of it. The world needs to know.”
Just before press time, the woman who owns the company who sent the crew to the job site called me and said she stands by her workers, who denied saying anything to Hole. There was another crew from another company working nearby on water utilities. Perhaps they had yelled it, the worker in question said, although he didn’t recall hearing anything.
“That particular employee that [Hole] sent a picture of, I’ve known him since he’s been a young boy,” the company owner said. “He’s a very nice young man.”
The employee denied saying anything to Hole, and the company owner believes him.
“I’ve never in 30 years had anybody call about my crew being rude or disrespectful,” she said.
I didn’t print the company’s name because of the owner’s strong denial and the possibility that another work crew from a different company might have been the guilty party, although Hole said she saw the Bobcat driver say it. She did prove one thing, though – work crews who still believe it is OK to harass or shame women for sport better be careful in an age when most women have cell phones with cameras on them and aren’t afraid to use them.