Gonzalez served as the facilities manager at Ridgedale Center, and was the only SMS employee at the mall with the ability to hire and fire the custodians. His power over her employment, along with the fact that Leticia was an undocumented immigrant, made it terrifying and near impossible for Leticia to report the assaults.
Incredibly, though, Leticia reported the abuses she endured. Although there was not enough evidence to pursue a criminal case, according to the Hennepin County attorney, Leticia and the lawyers at Gender Justice filed a lawsuit against SMS and Gonzalez.
The lawyers for SMS argued that the company had a clear sexual harassment policy in place and that since Leticia did not take advantage of the policy, the company was absolved from any liability in the case. However, SMS’s employee handbook did not specify how to report sexual harassment, nor was there any protection in place for employees who came forward. Further, the company performed an investigation into Leticia’s claims that was led by Gonzalez himself; not surprisingly, no remedial action was taken against him.
Rather than going to trial, SMS eventually reached a settlement with Leticia in 2012 that included changes to the company’s sexual harassment practices to help employees report abuses. Now the company must post flyers with their human resource hotline in all its workplaces, as well as hold yearly sexual harassment training for all of its employees. Previously, this training was unavailable to most employees and optional for managers like Gonzalez. Hopefully these policy changes can prevent horrors like those Leticia endured from happening to others.
For Leticia, the road to personal recovery may be long, but she continues to move forward with the support of her family. We worked with the Immigration Law Center to help Leticia obtain her U-Visa. She now works for another custodial subcontractor in Minnesota. She was recently awarded the National Employment Lawyers Association’s Courageous Plaintiff award for her bravery in coming forward.
Unfortunately, the abuse Leticia endured is not unique. Recently, PBS’s produced a documentary about sexual assault and custodial jobs. Leticia and Gender Justice attorney Christy Hall are both featured in the documentary, which investigates a series of cases across the country. This coverage makes clear that the risk of assault is an issue faced by women in custodial services nationwide.
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