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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13 comments
ElChingon82
ElChingon82

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!

mdc701
mdc701

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
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?

blacksheep
blacksheep

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!

_Joe_
_Joe_

@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.

erikostrom
erikostrom

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

hmcgarvey
hmcgarvey

@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.

sblsister
sblsister

@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
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?

_Joe_
_Joe_

@j.reiter

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.


j.reiter
j.reiter

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?

_Joe_
_Joe_

@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.

 
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