The perfect victim: Exploitation and threat of deportation

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

Four days later, Gonzalez wrote another memo, this one saying that a mall security guard had seen two housekeepers kissing, and their descriptions "only matched" Zuniga and another man who worked the same shift. But later, when the security guard was called in to testify, he remembered — and said he had told Gonzalez — people who looked nearly the opposite: A tall woman about 5 feet 8 inches (Zuniga is 4 feet 11 inches), and a man with shiny black hair. The man Gonzalez identified in his memo, though, had white hair.

By the end of the year, Zuniga was looking for a new job. While at an employment fair, she met an advocate, and told her what she had experienced. In January 2008, that advocate called Ridgedale Center to report Zuniga's story.

The mall contacted SMS, and later that month, Zuniga's advocate talked to the company's regional manager. He said he would tell Gonzalez to start an investigation. The advocate replied, according to court records, that Gonzalez was "part of the problem."

SMS assigned the complaint to an entry-level human resources employee, who then referred to the company's only manager in Minnesota: Gonzalez himself.

The company told Zuniga's advocate that the company would speak with Zuniga only "after" it conducted its investigation of her allegations. The day after that statement, though, the HR employee talked with Gonzalez about the investigation, and not long after, Gonzalez began sending SMS documents about Zuniga, such as her personnel file and his memos on her.

In February, with the help of Lisa Stratton and a team of student attorneys, Zuniga sent the company an official complaint. In March, she filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a federal agency that enforces employment discrimination laws.

SMS still did not talk to anyone other than Gonzalez, or send anyone else from its company to Ridgedale Center to investigate. After it received Zuniga's EEOC charge, the company asked Gonzalez to get statements from current employees about Zuniga.

Gonzalez did, conducting interviews with the employees himself, then personally translating their remarks from Spanish to English before sending the statements to SMS.

The Minnetonka Police Departmenthad begun an investigation of its own. By April, Zuniga had decided to report to them — even though doing so put her at risk for deportation.

Her lawyers told her that there might be an option for her: a special visa for victims of crimes, known as a U visa. Only 10,000 were available across the country every year, and it wasn't guaranteed — law enforcement had to certify the visa application — but it could be the solution.

"You put yourself in the hands of the police, you fill out a package of paperwork, and then you just hope and pray," says Jill Gaulding, one of Zuniga's lawyers.

Investigators took statements from Zuniga, Karla Perez, and Gonzalez himself. The first time he spoke with police, he denied the allegations flat-out, responding with a curt "no" to Zuniga's version of events, as well as questions about whether they had ever had consensual sex, or even kissed.

"Have you ever come on to her?" the investigator asked.

"No, no," Gonzalez replied.

Two weeks later, Gonzalez talked to police again. This time, he conceded that Zuniga had once kissed him.

"After that, one thing led to another," Gonzalez continued, and said Zuniga had masturbated him.

Over the next two years, Gonzalez would change his story three more times: In January 2009, when an EEOC investigator talked to him, he repeated that there was "nothing personal, day-to-day work-related issues only." But when the investigator reminded him that lying to a federal investigator was a crime, he admitted that once they had kissed, nothing more.

When he later testified for the lawsuit, he stuck to his first version: that they had never had any physical relationship at all.

Back in Minnetonka, the police took 11 carpet samples from Gonzalez's offices, where most of the alleged attacks occurred. All the samples came back from the lab negative for semen or blood.

Zuniga's lawyers later learned that back in December 2007 — several months after the last alleged assault, but nearly six months before investigators took the samples — Gonzalez had changed the carpet in his office.

Still, the investigators referred the case to the Hennepin County attorney for prosecution of criminal sexual conduct.

But there was little his office could do, explains Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman.

"We don't have witnesses, we don't have physical evidence, no sperm, no DNA, no blood, no anything," says Freeman, "To get to 'beyond a reasonable doubt,' which I say is 99 percent, we've got to have a lot more evidence here."

The problem, Freeman says, is that both Zuniga and Perez alerted police months after the attacks had allegedly occurred.

"Now there are a million reasons not to come forward, I understand that," Freeman says. "It's such an intimate crime that there's often a delay in reporting it. But if you delay even 24 hours, it's much harder to find the man's semen on the woman anywhere, and the perpetrator may well have returned to the scene to try to clean it up."

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Just because she is an illegal immigrant doesn't take away the fact that he is a rapist.....PERIOD!!! NO woman illegal or not should be a victim of rape!


Thank you for writing about this.  No woman whether legal or illegal, law abiding or not, deserves or should go through a rape.

Truth_Teller_1 topcommenter

This person has no business being here.  She has comitted a criminal act.   If she was still in Mexico, this would have never happened to her.

Obviously, she has no drivers license, or liability insurance, or health insurance.  If she ever would have an accident, well you or your insurance company is gonna 'eat it'.

If she really wants to make things better - stay in Mexico and make it a better country for future generations.  These illegal aliens are selfish people:  They desert their country of origin, and steal our infrstructure.   I'd rather pay US citizens $20/hr to clean the Mall, and pay for the costs upfront - higher rents/prices.  All that happens is that our gubmint taxes us, to pay for these illegal aliens.

Breeders.  Need I say more?


Why was she too timid to tell her own husband, who could have beat the heck out of the guy?

But now you make her out as brave? Deport her, end of story!


@East_Coast_Doug I'm inclined to agree.  Some measure of blame should fall on the people who get themselves into this situation.  However, the laws of our country are also there to protect people, not just citizens.  Criminals are still protected by law.  If you beat the tar out of someone that just got a speeding ticket, you are still breaking the law.  The fact that they too have broken some kind of law is irrelevant.

 However, as long as we have American citizens willing to break the law and hire illegal aliens, they will keep coming.  The focus needs to be on people doing the hiring.  Make the penalty so high that it is not worth the risk.  If someone can save $30K a year by hiring an illegal worker, then make the penalty for getting caught $500K per instance.  The problem will go away overnight.


@blacksheep What they said, and also, in America we don't think vigilante justice is the best justice.


@blacksheep First, you clearly you don't understand the psychological effects of rape. Illegal or not, she's a human being with emotions and feelings. As clearly explained in the article, there are numerous reasons that many women and men may not come forward with these allegations immediately. Second, I'm really glad that your concern is about deporting a woman, who is now here legally, rather than understanding why this man continues to be employed, is deemed an excellent supervisor and is likely continuing the same abuse that has affected (at LEAST) two women for their entire lives. Just no.


@blacksheep She was certainly afraid that if she told him, he would indeed beat the heck of the guy, get arrested, and made things worse.  She truly had no reasonable recourse.  She was very brave.  I hope she has a happy life right here in the USA, and I wish nothing but the best for her, her husband, and her children.  Gonzalez, on the other hand, deserves prison. 

Truth_Teller_1 topcommenter

I agree that she should be protected by our laws. 

I wonder what kind of fake / altered / borrowed documents she used to get the job?



So she can break the laws and then claim she wants to be protected by the laws? 

Yes.  For the same reason that I don't get a free pass to beat you senseless and take your things because of that speeding ticket you got that one time.

 If it is really so horrible then why do people continue to come here illegally and work?

 Because there are American businesses that will pay them.  American businesses that care more about their bottom line and getting the cheapest labor they can find than they do about creating jobs and employing their fellow citizens.The problem starts right here.  It's not coming across the border with these people.


So she can break the laws and then claim she wants to be protected by the laws?  If it is really so horrible then why do people continue to come here illegally and work?


@East_Coast_Doug Nothing that would stand up to even a cursory amount of scrutiny.  The employers are equally if not more culpable in this mess.