The perfect victim: Exploitation and threat of deportation

A retail custodian sexually assaulted by her boss fights back despite her immigration status

"He has, for this company, basically a fiefdom," says Lisa Stratton, one of the lawyers who represented Zuniga. "Utter and complete control."

Zuniga liked her new job. Gonzalez was polite and friendly, and would ask her about herself, for instance other places she had worked.

"He was charismatic," she says. "He established trust, and I respected him as my boss."

One of the employees who worked with Zuniga was Claudia Medina. She recalls that many of her co-workers were immigrants who lacked valid work papers.

"Everyone working there, including Marco Gonzalez, knew that most of the employees were undocumented," Medina declared in a court record. "Those who were undocumented were afraid to complain about anything."

In December 2006, Gonzalez fired Zuniga without warning. But then, three months later, in March 2007, she got a call from him.

Gonzalez said that the worker who had replaced Zuniga, a woman named Karla Perez, had suddenly left. He needed Zuniga to come back to work immediately — the very same day. She was surprised, but returned.

Later, after Zuniga came forward, Perez would explain that she quit so suddenly that day because Gonzalez had sexually assaulted her. She described how he said things to her like, "Are you a lesbian?" and showed her porn while she was in his office. One day, when she walked into his office, he masturbated onto her face.

But Zuniga didn't know any of that yet. She was just glad to return to a job that she knew well, and thought she was good at. This time around, though, she noticed that Gonzalez acted differently toward her.

On her first day back, "His eyes were this big from happiness" at seeing her, Zuniga remembers, stretching her eyes wide.

Almost right away, she says, he began calling her "princess" and making comments about how her clothes fit. Gonzalez later denied this to police investigators.

Two months after she returned to SMS, Gonzalez assaulted her for the first time, Zuniga alleges. The next two rapes, she says, also occurred in his basement office.

"Even if I had yelled for help," she says, "no one would have heard me."

Between assaults, Zuniga says, Gonzalez threatened retaliation if she ever complained. "He said I would see the 'real him,'" she explains.

The fourth assault occurred on the mall's east loading dock, Zuniga remembers, and caused her so much pain that two weeks later she still had difficulty walking and went to the Abbott-Northwestern emergency room.

She wanted to talk to the doctor about what was happening to her, she says, but she still hadn't spoken about the assaults to anyone, including her husband. She felt as though quitting wasn't an option. She and her family relied on her paycheck, and because of her immigration status, it was hard to find work.

She didn't know how to report Gonzalez, and even if she did, she says, she feared what he would do. She had never heard a term like "sexual harassment" for what was being done to her.

"I knew it was wrong," Zuniga says. "But I didn't know what to do."

Instead, she grew increasingly depressed. Her two sons noticed that when she wasn't working, she mostly stayed in her room. She lost her appetite. Even her co-workers noticed a change: One later said that in the last two months she worked for SMS, she seemed "empty inside."

In late September 2007, Gonzalez called an all-employee meeting. With all 18 of the housekeepers gathered, he reminded them that any romantic or sexual relationships with co-workers were strictly forbidden.

"I felt he was looking right at me the entire time," Zuniga says. "I felt like the meeting was a threat against me."

Two weeks later, on a Friday night, Zuniga finally cracked. She told her husband what had been happening.

"I felt like someone had thrown something at me, like a poison," Quevedo says. "I knew this man. I had seen her getting sad, looking like she had been crying all the time. But I had never thought it would be this."

The Monday after he heard about the attacks on his wife, Abraham Quevedo walked into Gonzalez's office at Ridgedale Center. The door was closed, Quevedo remembers, and he knocked on it.

"You abused my wife," Quevedo remembers telling Gonzalez, a man he had once considered a friend. Later, when he testified, Gonzalez remembered the accusation differently, recalling that Quevedo said, "You slept with my wife."

Quevedo wanted to punch Gonzalez, but his wife's former boss grabbed the radio, and he knew that if he moved, security would swarm the office. So after about 10 minutes, he walked out, still fuming.

Later that day, Gonzalez called SMS and told his employer about Quevedo's accusation. The company's instruction was for Gonzalez to write a statement that he had not had an affair with Zuniga.

Despite its written policy forbidding even consensual romantic relationships between managers and subordinates, SMS did not investigate Quevedo's allegation at all.

Gonzalez, though, began taking small steps to document his defense. In a memo dated November 1, 2007, he wrote that Zuniga had "had a relation" with a former co-worker. That co-worker had not worked with SMS since before 2007.

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