Fresh from graduate school, Holly Pinks, a medical lab technician, couldn’t wait to start at Southwest Laboratories in Dallas.
Then something unexpected happened, she said.
“The new department welcomed me by actually introducing me to gropening day,” she said. “I knew it wasn’t right, and I couldn’t take it anymore.”
“Gropening day,” she said, meant inappropriately touching co-workers at the lab.
The word “gropening” has been described as a pun on the German word for leaders having inappropriate behavior toward women. The term was also made the rounds in a “Doonesbury” cartoon.
First, it was every Friday, then on pay-day every other week, she said.
“It is where you will be embarrassed, ridiculed, and pretty much grabbed and fondled,” she said. “To actually sit there and be touched by someone you don’t want to be touched by at a work environment where you should feel safe but you don’t, and then having to go to work every single day because you still have to pay the bills, that was probably the worst feeling ever.”
She’s not alone.
Jeremy Johnson was a supervisor in the processing department at Southwest Laboratories. Johnson worked for the company about six months before being let go, he said.
“Nothing about this is embellished. This really happened in a work setting,” he said. “It was totally inappropriate for a work setting.”
Johnson said he struggled with needing the job and the office antics.
“I would never want to work for somebody like that again,” he said. “Let alone let somebody walk through that door and then go through something like we’ve been through in the past.”
Holly has since filed a formal EEOC complaint with the state of Texas. She also filed a civil employment lawsuit against the lab at the end of June.
In addition to “Gropening Friday,” she said there was also “Lab Coat Friday.” On those days, she said, co-workers ripped disposal lab coats off one another.
“I would look for any reason not to go in (to work). Any reason,” she said. “I hated going to work every day.”
In search of answers, WFAA went to Southwest Laboratories only to discover a different lab in its place.
According to attorney Arnold Shokouhi, Southwest Laboratories stopped operating in the fall of last year. In a statement, Shokouhi said, “Southwest Laboratories is no longer operating. Although these allegations happened while Southwest Laboratories was operating, we will fight these allegations in a court of law.”
Holly resigned after six months. She said she wants her story to inspire others to come forward.
“I hope it helps a lot of people speak out who are too scared,” she said.