The perfect victim: Exploitation and threat of deportation

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

The computer had also been used to look up tutorials on how to create rape porn yourself — and at one point Gonzalez had cameras set up in his office that he used to film employees without their knowledge.

By July 2012, the sides had set a September trial date, and the law firm of Nichols Kaster, one of the top employment firms in the country, had joined Zuniga's side as trial counsel.

"I have seen abuse of undocumented immigrants in the past," writes James Kaster in an email. "But nothing compared to this case."

The lawyers were actively preparing for trial. "To our knowledge, this had never been done," says Stratton. "No one has gone to trial admitting that they're an undocumented worker, and were abused in this way."

At 6 p.m. on a Friday, most of the houses in the Elk River neighborhood where Marco Gonzalez lives have two cars in the driveway. A few kids at the end of Gonzalez's block throw a basketball around, and one of Gonzalez's neighbors mows the lawn.

The home Gonzalez shares with his wife is dark. The only car in the driveway, an old white Cadillac, has two pancake tires. Cigarette butts are piled up next to the front door, and when the bell rings, a small dog yaps, but no one answers.

In mid-2008, SMS lost its cleaning contract at Ridgedale Center. But even though Zuniga had already submitted a harassment complaint, the company continued to praise Gonzalez, and even considered promoting him to a regional manager position in another part of the country.

"This guy would rock in the regional position," one of Gonzalez's supervisors wrote in an email to other SMS bosses in August 2008.

Instead, Gonzalez took the exact same position he'd had with SMS for the Ridgedale Center's new cleaning company. He was fired two years later, but was able to find another job working for the company that cleaned the Southdale Shopping Center.

As of April 2012, according to court records, Gonzalez remains on SMS's list of employees it would rehire.

City Pages repeatedly tried to reach Gonzalez for this story, including leaving messages and letters at his home, but he did not respond.

In July 2012, rather than going to trial, Service Management Systems settled with Zuniga. As part of the settlement, SMS agreed to make major changes to its national policies.

According to the terms of the settlement, SMS now has to prominently post, in every one of its workplaces, flyers with a human resources hotline that employees can call to report harassment or other abuses. The company also agreed to end its policy of forbidding employees from complaining directly to mall management.

Above all, the company agreed to hold yearly training on sexual harassment for all of its several thousand employees nationwide.

SMS would not comment on whether it has instituted those changes yet. In a statement, the company said only that it "regularly reviews all personnel policies to ensure that they remain up to date with current trends in employment standards and legislation nationwide."

For Zuniga and her lawyers, the settlement was a victory. Even though policy changes are the standard in class action lawsuits, they're rare for a case involving just a single plaintiff.

"These changes mean something with an employer as large as SMS," says Gaulding. "That's thousands of employees who are affected. And what you hope is that by making that part of the settlement agreement, that could be powerful to other employers."

After the settlement took effect, Stratton and Gaulding caught Zuniga's reaction on camera. Wearing a jean jacket, Zuniga expressed her gratitude through her smile.

"Thank you because you believed so much in me," she told her lawyers. "In what I lived through, and in what happened to me."

Today, Zuniga says that, with the help of therapy, she's making strides back toward her old self. She has a job with another cleaning subcontractor at an office building in St. Paul, and her sons are now 14 and 16.

"Sometimes I do think about it, and I feel sad," she explains. "But sometimes I don't. I do believe that the best thing I did was talk about it.

"I'm angry that he's still working," Zuniga continues. "But I feel free."

Vivian Gepp translated for Leticia Zuniga and Abraham Quevedo.

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