Rape on the Night ShiftView film
This is an updated program that originally aired June 23, 2015
NEWSCASTER: The #MeToo movement is growing this morning.
NEWSCASTER: A huge number of sexual assault and harassment survivors are sharing their stories—
NEWSCASTER: The sexual harassment problem on Capitol Hill—
NEWSCASTER: We have breaking news involving a major media figure.
ANNOUNCER: Amid allegations of high-profile sexual abuse, the investigation from FRONTLINE and a team of journalists of the immigrant women who come to clean when you go home for the night
KARLA PEREZ: He closed the door and he say to me, “Nobody will know about this. Nobody will believe you.”
ANNOUNCER: Years before the current headlines—
ANNA PARK, Regional Attorney, EEOC: We started seeing more physical, aggressive harassment, women being raped.
ANNOUNCER: These women were some of the first to stand up and say no more.
ALEJANDRA VALLES, Secretary-Treasurer SEIU/USWW: They said, “Ya Basta,” “No more.” “Enough’s enough.” Things are changing now, and luckily, there are a lot of women coming forward. And so if we don’t take this moment and use it to protect the most vulnerable workers among us, then we’re letting the moment pass.
ANNOUNCER: Tonight on FRONTLINE, “Rape on the Night Shift.”
LOWELL BERGMAN, Correspondent: (voice-over) At the end of the day, when most of the world goes home, a nearly invisible workforce clocks in. Millions of janitors clean malls, banks, big box stores, the office where you work. Many janitors are women who work at night in empty buildings, in isolation, and that can put them in danger.
MARIA BOJORQUEZ: [subtitles] Working as a janitor at night is exhausting and very risky. You are always alone. You have to watch out for yourself.
You get to work, you check in. They give you keys and tell you what floor you’re assigned to, sometimes an entire floor, sometimes two.
LOWELL BERGMAN: Maria Bojorquez cleaned offices in San Francisco’s iconic Ferry building.
MARIA BOJORQUEZ: [subtitles] I always had to check in with my supervisor. At first, he tried to gain my trust. He started with flattery. And then he would pretend to be reaching for something, but would brush against my breasts, or sometimes just grab them.
I told him that I was going to complain, and he would say, “They won’t believe you.
I told myself the moment would never come, but it came. For a moment, I was distracted. I don’t know how it all happened. It was like seconds. Everything happened so fast—fast, and at the same time, it went on forever.
He grabbed me, forced me down, and I was lost. My mind went blank. [weeps]
LOWELL BERGMAN: What happened to Maria Bojorquez is not an isolated incident. According to the Department of Justice, there are more than 17,000 sexual assaults at work every year.
We began investigating this in 2012, and found it was rampant among women farmworkers, who are often undocumented and isolated. We since discovered a similar pattern of violent sexual abuse against women janitors who work the night shift. We have uncovered cases of sexual assault and rape at companies large and small, and in the darkest corners of this industry, janitors who were sexually assaulted and even held captive by their bosses.
ANNA PARK, Regional Attorney, EEOC: These women work every day to feed their family and try to do the best they can with dignity, and it’s really up to the company to protect them.
LOWELL BERGMAN: Anna Park is the lead attorney in Los Angeles for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency that enforces sexual harassment laws in the workplace. The EEOC cannot bring criminal charges against alleged perpetrators, but it can sue a perpetrator’s employer.
ANNA PARK: The common theme is employers not taking these complaints seriously. We started seeing over time more physical, aggressive harassment, women being raped, subject to sexual battery.
LOWELL BERGMAN: We looked into the largest janitorial employer in the United States, ABM, a multi-billion-dollar company whose clients include airports, office buildings and the Pentagon.
ABM says it has one of the most sophisticated worker protection programs in the industry, but we found more than 40 sexual harassment lawsuits against ABM over the past two decades. In fact, ABM is one of the few companies to have been sued by the EEOC multiple times for sexual harassment.
Anna Park was in charge of the biggest EEOC sexual harassment case against ABM.
ANNA PARK: When the EEOC brought a class case against ABM Industries, I felt it exemplified one of the worst handlings by a company of complaints of harassment.
LOWELL BERGMAN: [on camera] You know it’s the largest janitorial company of its kind in the nation.
ANNA PARK: Yes, and I think that’s what shocked us the most, being as large as they were, the lack of action, lack of attention, lack of sense of responsibility. And in this case, they did none of that.
LOWELL BERGMAN: None.
ANNA PARK: They did none of that.
LOWELL BERGMAN: [voice-over] The case began nearly a decade ago deep in California’s Central Valley. Maria Magana, one of the claimants in the case, had not publicly talked about what happened to her until now.
MARIA MAGANA: [subtitles] The reason I’ve been able to do this work for so many years is that my supervisors trust me. They know I will get the job done, and get the job done well.
I had already been working for the company when this guy started. From the start, he was very foul-mouthed. He began to treat me badly.
ATTORNEY: Good morning, Mr. Vasquez.
JOSE VASQUEZ: Good morning.
LOWELL BERGMAN: Jose Vasquez was a supervisor for ABM.
ATTORNEY: Did you supervise Maria Magana?
JOSE VASQUEZ: Yes.
ATTORNEY: Is it fair to say that there were work sites where Maria Magana was the only janitor cleaning up the site?
JOSE VASQUEZ: Yes.
MARIA MAGANA: [subtitles] He assigned me to work alone in a bank. One time, he came in while I was sweeping. He tried to hug me and grab me from behind. So I hit him with my broom, and he said, “Maria, why are you so mad? What am I doing wrong? It’s just a caress. I’m just being affectionate.”
I told him, “You get any closer, and I’ll hit you with the handle right now.” It didn’t bother him at all. He said, “That’s how I like it. I like my women angry.”
He shoved me to the ground. And when he shoved me to the ground, that’s when it happened. He raped me.
ATTORNEY: Did you have sex with Maria Magana against her will at the ABM work site?
JOSE VASQUEZ: No.
ATTORNEY: Did you rape Maria Magana at the ABM work site?
JOSE VASQUEZ: No.
MARIA MAGANA: [subtitles] I didn’t want to tell anyone because I felt so ashamed. He would laugh and say, “No one is going to listen to you.” I still remember his smirk, as if he was saying, “I won.”
LOWELL BERGMAN: Magana never reported the assault to the company, or the police, and so Vasquez was able to continue supervising women at ABM sites all over Bakersfield.
Several months later, ABM received anonymous letters pleading for help and alleging that Vasquez had been in jail for sexual harassment.
ANNA PARK, Regional Attorney, EEOC: They received anonymous complaints putting them on notice of this sexual predator. They did nothing.
LOWELL BERGMAN: Had they checked, ABM would have learned that Vasquez was a registered sex offender who had served prison time for raping a teenage girl. In fact, ABM never did a background check when they hired Vasquez.
ATTORNEY: Is this your application when you first applied for a job at ABM?
JOSE VASQUEZ:: Yes.
ATTORNEY: It asks, “Have you ever been convicted of a crime?” And that’s blank. Did you leave that blank?
JOSE VASQUEZ:: Yes.
ATTORNEY: And where it says, “If yes, please explain,” did you leave that blank?
JOSE VASQUEZ:: Yes.
ATTORNEY: Why is the application not fully filled out?
JOSE VASQUEZ:: Because I wanted the job.
LOWELL BERGMAN: Vasquez had been working for ABM for nearly a year when those anonymous letters started to arrive alleging he had assaulted other janitors, including a woman named Erika.
ERIKA MORALES: [subtitles] I began to feel like things were really wrong when I would be cleaning and he would sit down and just watch me. I would say to him, “What are you doing here?” And he said, “I came to supervise you.” And I said, “But you already supervised my work.” He would say, “No, I came to see you.”
He would always just appear, like a ghost. That person tried to rape me. He hit me. I don’t know how I defended myself. He knew that there weren’t any cameras. I was screaming, but no one could hear me, no one could see me.
I don’t know how I got away from him. Fortunately, I did. And when he left, I was distraught and in bad shape because I had to cover myself because of what he was able to rip off. And he teased me. He laughed in my face. It’s something I won’t forget.
I went to the office to turn in my keys, and I told the supervisor, “I can’t do this anymore.” He said, “Why?” And I told him, “You know what you’re doing. You know what’s happening.” And he said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” And I said, “Yes, you know what I’m talking about.”
And when I left, I told him, “There will be someone. Someone will speak out.” I never imagined that I would be the one to speak out.
LOWELL BERGMAN: Morales never went to the police to complain about Vasquez, but she would become the lead plaintiff in that EEOC class action lawsuit with 20 other women. They alleged the company did not protect them from sexual harassment, assault and rape by Vasquez and more than a dozen other men working for ABM.
ANNA PARK: That’s a huge number of bad actors, which really pointed to the systematic problem that we saw and the failure of the company to really hold their managers and employees accountable that harassment is not tolerated in the workplace. That message did not come through.
LOWELL BERGMAN: Once ABM learned of the rape conviction, Vasquez quit.
We looked for Vasquez at the address listed on the state’s sex offender registry, but he had moved. When we tracked him down, he declined to talk to us on camera.
PRODUCER: We just want your response, Mr. Vasquez, to these allegations—
LOWELL BERGMAN: Vasquez was never charged for the alleged assaults.
JOSE VASQUEZ:: I’m going to call the police right now.
LOWELL BERGMAN: Off camera, he told us that the women were in it for the money.
The ABM case was resolved in 2010, with the company agreeing to pay $5.8 million dollars, one of the largest sexual harassment settlements in EEOC history. While the company did not admit any wrongdoing, it agreed to strengthen its procedures for the handling of sexual harassment complaints.
But less than a month later, the EEOC sued ABM again.
ANNA PARK: We have seen this time and time again, where there are certain complaints received by certain segments of their workforce just doesn’t matter. It’s not that important. It is a cost of doing business.
LOWELL BERGMAN: Henrik Slipsager, seen here in the New York Stock Exchange, was CEO of ABM at the time of the Central Valley class action suit.
[CBS, “Undercover Boss”]
FEMALE EMPLOYEE: You’re very good with a vacuum cleaner, that’s for sure! [laughs]
HENRIK SLIPSAGER: Don’t tell my wife!
LOWELL BERGMAN: Though Slipsager would not speak to us, he did participate in this CBS program, “Undercover Boss,” where he posed as a janitor in his own company.
FEMALE EMPLOYEE: We’re going down. Take me to 37.
LOWELL BERGMAN: And he got some advice.
FEMALE EMPLOYEE: One thing ABM could do better is have women wear pants because if I have to run around and bend over, I got to make sure somebody else doesn’t see my behind or something like that, you know, like as I’m bending over, so! [laughter]
[ABM video statement]
MIRANDA TOLAR, Deputy General Counsel, ABM: ABM is committed to fostering a professional and safe work environment for all of our employees.
LOWELL BERGMAN: We spent over a year asking ABM for an on-camera interview, but they declined. Instead, they sent us this videotaped statement. They also wrote us saying that cases we looked at pre-date their current workplace policies. And they highlighted their 24-hour complaint hotline and harassment training for all employees.
MIRANDA TOLAR: We believe that our policies and procedures are the gold standard in the industry. Our systems work. In some cases, we have been made aware of inappropriate behavior and taken action. In other cases, allegations of wrongdoing have proven to be false and even malicious.
LOWELL BERGMAN: We asked ABM to comment on specific cases. They declined.
MIRANDA TOLAR: However, it would not be appropriate for us to discuss those claims outside of our legal filings.
LOWELL BERGMAN: But we found someone who has been inside ABM, Mary Shultz, an attorney who once sued ABM for sex discrimination, winning millions of dollars for her client.
ABM then hired her, and she worked for the company as a consultant for several years.
MARY SHULTZ, Attorney: I found ABM to be a fascinating universe. This is a company that has national reach, that accommodates, trains, pays, provides benefits to ethnic groups from all over the world. It’s a fascinating social dynamic, an organizational dynamic, and I was intrigued by it and I wanted to help.
LOWELL BERGMAN: [on camera] You wanted to help because you perceived they had problems?
MARY SHULTZ: I wanted to help because I perceived everybody had problems in that whole dynamic. The workers were having problems. The company was having problems. You have a lot of really good people, and you have some really bad people.
LOWELL BERGMAN: During the period that you were there, there was a class action case from the EEOC pending in the Central Valley of California. And the EEOC regional attorney who brought the case said, “This was one of the worst handlings by a company of complaints of harassment” that she’d ever seen.
MARY SHULTZ: I read the report. And what I saw in that, if that was true, was an abject failure by the HR department to implement processes and procedures that were there.
LOWELL BERGMAN: [voice-over] When ABM was sued in another sexual harassment case, the judge dismissed the suit, in part because he found the company had acted appropriately.
[on camera] So I want to show you something—
[voice-over] Mary Schulz deposed one of the alleged victims.
[on camera] Do you remember Miriam Pacheco? We interviewed her.
MARY SHULTZ: Do I remember her?
LOWELL BERGMAN: Well, you took her deposition.
MARY SHULTZ: OK. I’ve taken myriads of depositions.
MIRIAM PACHECO: [subtitles] It’s hard, but I will say it. He raped me by force. I struggled, but I couldn’t fight him off and he threw me down. The second time, the rape was much more violent. I couldn’t do anything.
LOWELL BERGMAN: She’s making serious allegations of rape. So then assuming Miriam Pacheco is telling the truth about what happened to her, but the case gets dismissed, where is there justice for her?
MARY SHULTZ: Because the case was dismissed, again, it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. The report that she provided was of a rape. Where’s the criminal system? That is the system that’s designed to address the kind of crime that she’s reporting.
What the company sees is, “We’ve got an issue here. Maybe this is credible, maybe it isn’t. Maybe this happened, maybe it didn’t.”
Do companies just start opening the wallet and paying out money to people whose circumstances they believe? I think that would be horribly risky. You would be overwhelmed with trying to sort out the good from the bad.
LOWELL BERGMAN: [voice-over] And when ABM does not believe they did anything wrong, they vigorously contest it.
Maria Bojorquez, the janitor who alleged she was raped in San Francisco’s Ferry building, sued ABM for sexual harassment and retaliation and won. A jury awarded her $800,000 in 2012.
The alleged perpetrator denied the allegations, and ABM appealed the verdict.
ABM ATTORNEY: We made substantial efforts to impeach the credibility of Ms. Bojorquez—
LOWELL BERGMAN: Their lawyers argued their case in front of an appellate court in 2015. And while the company disputed Bojorquez’s claims, their lawyer said they cannot always prevent abuses before they happen.
ABM ATTORNEY: ABM has tens of thousands of employees located across the United States and internationally, many who work in remote locations at night with minimal supervision. Bad things sometimes happen.
LOWELL BERGMAN: ABM would eventually settle the case.
LILIA GARCIA-BROWER, Maintenance Cooperation Trust Fund: Often, the realities of the janitorial industry go undetected. Janitors are essentially invisible because they work at night. And for enforcement people, as well, there isn’t an aggressive enforcement program at night.
LOWELL BERGMAN: Lilia Garcia-Brower is an industry expert who monitors the working conditions of janitors.
[on camera] I’m used to the janitor being someone who was part of the company, or part of the school district or part of the mall, you know, a part of the company itself. But that’s changed, right?
LILIA GARCIA-BROWER: Because of the economic realities, there’s a huge shift to contracting out services. And the nature of the industry, the structure of the industry, makes it that much harder for contractors to ensure that the workplace is safe.
Many companies look very good on paper, but what matters is what’s happening at the work site. Employers need to make sure that their supervisors are following their directives and that their employees know what to do if they come into harm’s way. If they can’t afford to do that, they shouldn’t be in business.
LOWELL BERGMAN: [voice-over] ABM is by no means the only janitorial company that has dealt with sexual harassment cases. We identified another employer who says they have good policies, and they were willing to talk to us.
BILL STEJSKAL, Senior VP, Human Resources, SMS: Any time we get a complaint of sexual harassment, it’s regarded very seriously, and then we do a prompt and thorough investigation.
LOWELL BERGMAN: Bill Stejskal is the senior vice president of human resources at SMS, a janitorial company based in Nashville, Tennessee, with contracts throughout the country.
BILL STEJSKAL: We do a very good job, I believe, of training our supervisors and management on harassment prevention.
LOWELL BERGMAN: [on camera] Your policies call for any complaint to be investigated, right?
BILL STEJSKAL: Right. And if we find that somebody has indeed violated our policies on harassment, they’ll be subject to disciplinary action up to and including termination of their employment.
LOWELL BERGMAN: Have you ever been involved in trying to determine the truth of any of these allegations?
BILL STEJSKAL: Sure. That’s what we’re trying to accomplish during the investigation, and that is to learn the truth. Sometimes, we are able to find out what the truth is. Other times, the truth is elusive.
LOWELL BERGMAN: [voice-over] Leticia Zuniga worked for SMS, cleaning a mall in a Minneapolis suburb. Her manager controlled her schedule, and had the power to hire and fire.
LETICIA ZUNIGA: [subtitles] When I began working there, he would say things like, “Oh, I like how you dress. Oh, I like your clothes. You look very beautiful.”
One time, he called me to give me instructions for work, and that’s when everything started. I went into his office, he closed the door and he turned off the light. The only light in the room was from the computer monitor.
He pulled me toward him. He tells me, “I like you a lot.” I tried to escape over the top of his desk, and he pulled back, and my pants went down. He inserted his finger into my private parts, and he became very forceful.
I looked down, and there was a lot of blood coming out of me. And I told him, “What did you do to me? What did you do to me? Look!” And he said, “There is no need to scream. No one will hear you.”
I was in shock. I took some Kleenex and cleaned my legs. I quickly put my clothes on and returned to work. I returned to work, but I didn’t say anything.
He threatened me if I said anything, he would call immigration because he knew that I didn’t have documents.
After that, there were other assaults with penetration. I felt very ashamed. And on top of this, he and my husband were friends. I felt trapped in a world where I could not speak.
More than anything, I thought about my kids. That’s why I endured so many awful things. I endured everything he did to me.
ABRAHAM QUEVEDO, Leticia’s Husband: [subtitles] She was in really bad shape. I noticed some changes in her. She was sad. She would gesture, like someone who is going crazy or something. I would ask if anything had happened. She wouldn’t tell me anything.
I told her, “Look at me as a friend, not your husband, and tell me what’s happening.” And that day, she told me that Marco was abusing her. It was very difficult for a man to know that about his wife. It’s very hard. And worse, this was a person I considered to be a friend.
I wanted to kill him, finish him off. I confronted him. I told him, “You abused my wife.” He said no. “She’s a liar. I’m not doing that.”
I insulted him and told him he’d pay. But it’s hard. Honestly, I don’t wish this on anyone.
LOWELL BERGMAN: Zuniga left SMS without filing a complaint. Several months later, she reported the incidents to the police, and then filed a lawsuit against SMS.
[on camera] When you became aware of the Zuniga case—
BILL STEJSKAL: Right.
LOWELL BERGMAN: --what was your reaction?
BILL STEJSKAL: My reaction was astonishment. I mean, I found it hard to believe and so disappointed that a manager of ours could ever commit such acts against one of our employees, or on the other hand, that we could possibly have an employee that would make up a story about a manager like that committing such acts if he didn’t do them.
LOWELL BERGMAN: Rape.
BILL STEJSKAL: Right. Right. She alleged that she had been raped. What mattered to us was finding out the truth about what happened.
LOWELL BERGMAN: So what did you do? How did you investigate?
BILL STEJSKAL: We did the best we could under the circumstances. But when we first learned of her situation, nearly 300 days had passed since the last time she alleged to have been raped by the manager. So when you’re thinking in terms of prompt and thorough, this was a very difficult investigation.
We were able to talk to the accused, and he denied that those occurred.
ATTORNEY: Mr. Gonzalez, do you remember that you’re under oath?
MARCO GONZALEZ: I do.
LOWELL BERGMAN: [voice-over] As part of Zuniga’s lawsuit, her manager, Marco Gonzalez, was questioned about her allegations in this videotaped deposition.
ATTORNEY: Mr. Gonzalez, did you ever attempt to have sexual intercourse with Ms. Zuniga?
MARCO GONZALEZ: No.
ATTORNEY: Did you ever touch Ms. Zuniga’s vagina?
MARCO GONZALEZ: No.
ATTORNEY: Did Ms. Zuniga ever bleed in your office?
MARCO GONZALEZ: No.
ATTORNEY: Did Ms. Zuniga ever say, “No, no, no,” to you?
MARCO GONZALEZ: In what respect?
ATTORNEY: In the course of a sexual interaction.
MARCO GONZALEZ: No.
LOWELL BERGMAN: Gonzalez told SMS that Zuniga’s accusations were, quote, “preposterous.” SMS instructed Gonzalez to gather written statements about Zuniga, but Gonzalez went a step further. He secretly recorded these interviews with employees.
[hidden camera, subtitles]
MARCO GONZALEZ: You remember Leticia, right?
MARCO GONZALEZ: I’d like to know what you know about her because she’s causing us some problems.
CHRISTY HALL, Zuniga’s Attorney: Marco Gonzalez had a camera hidden in his office. And the women, it seems like, have no idea that there is a camera there.
MARCO GONZALEZ: She’s trying to make a case against us. But it’s all lies. She’s made herself out to be a victim. You can tell me about her, whatever you knew about her.
MARIA: But look, she hardly talked to me.
CHRISTY HALL: He’s fishing for any kind of bad behavior she might have engaged in, and what he came up with was just gossip, basically, about Leticia.
MIREYA: They said that she was also with [deleted]
MARCO GONZALEZ: Wow!
MIREYA: I don’t know. I haven’t seen them together.
MARCO GONZALEZ: It’s a soap opera!
MIREYA: But you know, someone sees something, and that’s how rumors begin.
LOWELL BERGMAN: [on camera] There are instructions to Marco Gonzalez to gather statements related to the claims that appear to be made against him. Was that part of your investigation?
BILL STEJSKAL, Senior VP, Human Resources, SMS: That wouldn’t be protocol, to ask the accused to be involved in the investigation, no.
LOWELL BERGMAN: Well, this is him conducting his investigation. He taped it all. He, in a sense, surveilled himself doing the investigation. And you never learned that before?
BILL STEJSKAL: I don’t remember being told that, and I certainly have never seen that before. I have a legal director and staff employee relations specialist that conduct the investigations, and I don’t get involved at that level.
LOWELL BERGMAN: [voice-over] Debbi Tannock was in charge of the investigation for SMS.
ATTORNEY: In this e-mail, you’re asking Mr. Gonzalez to gather witness statements?
DEBBI TANNOCK, SMS Investigator: Yes.
ATTORNEY: Does it seem strange to ask the harasser to go gather evidence from his supervisees?
DEBBI TANNOCK: Yeah. That didn’t—wouldn’t make sense to me.
ATTORNEY: Do you know why you did that?
DEBBI TANNOCK: No, I don’t. I might have been instructed to. I don’t know.
LOWELL BERGMAN: While Gonzalez was gathering evidence for SMS, he would change his story multiple times.
ATTORNEY: You told the police that you and Ms. Zuniga kissed, correct?
MARCO GONZALEZ: Yes.
ATTORNEY: You stated that she took out your penis and masturbated you.
MARCO GONZALEZ: Yes.
ATTORNEY: Is what you said to the police not true?
MARCO GONZALEZ: Right. Yes.
ATTORNEY: So you felt the best thing to do was to lie to the police when you spoke to them?
MARCO GONZALEZ: At that time, yes.
LOWELL BERGMAN: As part of the case, Zuniga’s lawyers were able to track down his work computer and conduct a forensic analysis. They discovered that his Internet search history was filled with violent pornography, including sites that appeared to specialize in rape.
KARLA PEREZ: He always was showing me pornography videos. I was feeling uncomfortable. I’m, like—and he even shut the lights off and everything. I said, “Marco, why are you showing me this?”
LOWELL BERGMAN: Karla Perez also worked for SMS. This is the first time, she says, she has shared her full story.
KARLA PEREZ: One day, he say, “Karla, come into the office.” I came to the office, and he pulled his pants down and he take his things out, and he make me—and he make me put it in his mouth—you know, I put his stuff in my mouth, in my mouth and-- [weeps] And he closed the door, and he say to me, “Nobody will know about this. Nobody will believe you.”
LOWELL BERGMAN: Perez quit without filing a complaint with SMS. Eventually, she went to the police. Gonzalez denied the allegations.
[on camera] A second woman went in and complained to the police.
BILL STEJSKAL: I’m not aware of that.
LOWELL BERGMAN: And what about a computer that Marco Gonzalez had that showed that he was accessing rape porn sites?
BILL STEJSKAL: Yeah, I don’t remember hearing about that.
LOWELL BERGMAN: No one told you about it?
BILL STEJSKAL: Not that I can recall.
LOWELL BERGMAN: And then, you know that the manager changed his story a number of times about what happened.
BILL STEJSKAL: I’m not aware of that.
LOWELL BERGMAN: You don’t know that he told the police two different stories?
BILL STEJSKAL: I don’t remember ever hearing that.
LOWELL BERGMAN: [voice-over] During the lawsuit, SMS was ordered to produce internal sexual harassment complaints. The records showed a number of incomplete investigations and dozens of accusations against other supervisors.
[on camera] Three years of records from your internal complaint system showed that somewhere around 31 of those were made against supervisors. That never got your attention?
BILL STEJSKAL: No.
LOWELL BERGMAN: You don’t review these complaints? You don’t have, like, a briefing every quarter?
BILL STEJSKAL: Typically, I don’t. Oh, I have briefings, Lowell, on the cases. But I have staff specifically assigned to that.
LOWELL BERGMAN: Well, a number don’t appear to have any follow-up investigation, which would seem to violate your policy.
BILL STEJSKAL: Again, every complaint or account of behavior that might be sexual harassment we take very seriously and we want to do a prompt and thorough investigation.
LOWELL BERGMAN: But there would be a file somewhere, wouldn’t there?
BILL STEJSKAL: There should be, yes . It could be as simple as, “Do you remember investigating?” “Yes, I did.” “Where are the notes?” “I don’t know where the notes”—
LOWELL BERGMAN: So there may have been an investigation, but there’s no record of it.
BILL STEJSKAL: That’s correct.
LOWELL BERGMAN: [voice-over] Zuniga’s lawsuit lasted three years. The case was settled in 2012. SMS did not admit any wrongdoing.
Marco Gonzalez left SMS, but his former boss would later recommend him for a regional position, writing that, quote, “This guy would rock.” In the end, he was not rehired.
Gonzalez declined our repeated attempts to speak with him on camera.
As for the criminal investigation, the police believed both women and brought the case to the county attorney in Minneapolis, but he chose not to prosecute.
MICHAEL FREEMAN, Hennepin County Attorney, MN: Unfortunately and tragically in this case, all we had basically was her word and his word. Is that sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt? Our experience clearly says it’s not.
The defense attorney would say, “Ladies and gentleman of the jury, where’s the physical evidence? Where’s the semen? Where’s the pictures? Where’s the video? Where’s the witnesses? Why did it take her a year-plus? Did she now finally report it merely to get money from him?”
I do believe these crimes were committed. But I also believe, unfortunately, we simply could not prove it.
Sen. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D), New York: The percentage of rape cases that are actually investigated and prosecuted are quite low. It’s probably one of the most underreported crimes in society today. It’s also probably the least prosecuted crime in society today.
LOWELL BERGMAN: Senator Kirsten Gillibrand authored legislation that would change how sexual assault is handled in the military, and she proposed a new federal law to strengthen rape investigations on college campuses.
Sen. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND: [Senate floor speech] With this bill, instead of treating accusers and accused with unequal standards, the accusers and accused would have the same access to all due process rights.
LOWELL BERGMAN: [on camera] When we look at the janitorial industry, for instance, we’re talking about low-paid, often undocumented people.
Sen. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND: Right. So those who are targeted in that industry are vulnerable, so they may not be able to navigate the legal system. They may not feel that their immigration status allows them to even report a complaint.
LOWELL BERGMAN: We interviewed a county attorney who declined to prosecute a rape case in which he believed the victim, but he said, “Unfortunately and tragically in this case, all we had basically was her word and his word.” Do you agree? Do you need physical evidence to prosecute rape?
Sen. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND: No because the testimony of the survivor is evidence. And so it’s whether she’s believable or not. And so I think if we have a national conversation about the prevalence of sexual violence, perhaps more juries will believe the testimony of a survivor when she tells what happened to her.
LOWELL BERGMAN: It appears that the institutions also rally around the supervisors.
Sen. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND: Of course they do. And so when you’re trying to reform these systems, all the bias is against the survivors. All the bias is against these victims, who tend to be the least powerful, the least able to raise their voice, the least able to demand justice.
LOWELL BERGMAN: [voice-over] For the women who did speak out, the journey is not over. Maria Magana is still a night shift janitor. She received a monetary settlement as part of her lawsuit, but she feels that justice has been elusive.
MARIA MAGANA: [subtitles] I didn’t care about money. I thought that they’d put that man in jail. But no.
They can give me thousands and thousands of dollars, but to this day, I can’t—the money—I can’t spend it with joy because I see it as dirty. I feel that not even that money is going to ease my pain, this pain, and that filthy stain on my heart from that man who marked me.
ERIKA MORALES: [subtitles] We’re talking about a very delicate topic, which is sexual harassment in the workplace. And personally, I’ve never talked about this part of my life on the air. A group of women, including me, did not have strength to report it to the police. So I think this is one of the first things that one has to do.
LOWELL BERGMAN: No longer a janitor, Erika Morales now uses her voice to raise awareness on an Internet radio show.
ERIKA MORALES: [subtitles] For me, it’s been very difficult to share this on the air because it’s something very personal. But now that we’re talking about it, hopefully, this helps you. Hopefully, people can speak up.
LOWELL BERGMAN: Since Leticia Zuniga spoke out, she has continued to work as a janitor, now for ABM. She says she knows her rights, and is doing better.
LETICIA ZUNIGA: [subtitles] I’d say I’m more or less OK, after a long time in therapy with psychologists, psychiatrists. But time has also helped me to heal my wounds and my heart.
ABRAHAM QUEVEDO, Leticia’s Husband: [subtitles] We are still struggling. We suffered a lot. Our sons, too. They’ve suffered a lot and asked us a lot of questions. Why did she lock herself away? Why did she cry?
The oldest asked a lot of questions because he saw his mom doing badly. And the younger one, he just shook his head, angry, as well.
LOWELL BERGMAN: As Leticia tries to heal herself and her family, she still leaves home every evening, like so many women, to work on the night shift.
Since this story first aired in 2015, a lot has changed. As women in all walks of life are coming forward with accounts of sexual harassment, Lilia Garcia Brower’s organization has been teaching janitors how to fight back.
LILIA GARCIA-BROWER, Maintenance Cooperation Trust Fund: I never thought that we would be sponsoring a self-defense group. I believe that every woman worker needs to understand how to defend themselves.
It is very simple. It is not rocket science, what we talk about. We’re essentially looking to create an army of female janitors who are committed to go out and talk to as many female janitors as possible so that they too can understand that they have the power within them to defend themselves.
MARTHA MEJIA: This class is wonderful. It makes us safer. We don’t need athletic bodies or weapons to be able to defend ourselves, just our hands.
LOWELL BERGMAN: After hearing other janitors’ stories, Martha Mejia came forward about the abuse she suffered.
MARTHA MEJIA: [subtitles] It gave me the strength to say I’m not alone. There are a lot of us women.
LOWELL BERGMAN: The issue had also gotten the attention of a local affiliate of the country’s largest janitorial union, SEIU.
ALEJANDRA VALLES, SEIU, United Service Workers West: When Rape on the Night Shift came out in 2015, it was an incredibly emotional moment. And a group of us, which all happened to be survivors, huddled and said, “What are we going to do? This is really important.”
NEWSCASTER: A massive janitors’ march, this is in downtown LA—
NEWSCASTER: --to organize janitors and force employers to provide better working conditions.
LOWELL BERGMAN: The union was fighting for better working conditions—
NEWSCASTER: Organizers say this is the first of many events that will be held—
LOWELL BERGMAN: --and they began a campaign to raise awareness about sexual abuse in the industry.
NEWSCASTER: --workplace harassment and sexual assault—
LOWELL BERGMAN: The movement’s rallying cry was, “Ya Basta, “Enough is enough.”
ALEJANDRA VALLES: Ya Basta. No more. This is not going to be the dirty little secret in our industry that nobody talks about. We’ve had it. Enough’s enough.
LOWELL BERGMAN: They were encouraged by who came to their side. ABM pledged support even as the company continues to deal with ongoing accusations of sexual harassment.
pbs.org/frontline: More from ABM
ALEJANDRA VALLES: ABM has come to the table with the union janitors and said, “We will do better. And we will continue to work with you as the watchdogs of this.”
LOWELL BERGMAN: The women took their fight—and their stories of abuse—to the California statehouse.
LORENA GONZALEZ FLETCHER, California State Assembly: So you realize that they’re facing so many vulnerabilities in their job, and in such a vulnerable position. And that this is happening made me so angry. And that’s what came to my mind, the fact that these are people among us that we just don’t look at, we don’t think about. We don’t take the time to say, like, “What kind of working conditions are you in, and what kind of vulnerabilities might you experience?” And so I was sad. I was angered. And I wanted to do what we could do, from the state, to be able to protect these women.
LOWELL BERGMAN: Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher introduced AB 1978, a bill requiring sexual harassment training for all janitorial employees. Companies that fail to comply with this or other parts of the law would not be able to do business in California.
ALEJANDRA VALLES: That was the beginning of a very public fight to win AB 1978.
NEWSCASTER: Here’s an unusual attempt to encourage Governor Brown to sign a piece of legislation.
ALEJANDRA VALLES: We had also put up billboards [“End Rape on the Night Shift, Support AB 1978”] across the Bay area that we were hoping the governor would see, and folks that were close to the governor, so that he would sign AB 1978.
[at rally] [subtitles] --that this harm and these violations, this sexual harassment lives inside of us. And when we remain silent for so many years, it turns into knots and disease inside our body.
LOWELL BERGMAN: The Ya Basta women came out in force, demonstrating in front of the state capitol.
LORENA GONZALEZ FLETCHER: And then the women themselves did a hunger strike at the end, to wait on a signature.
MARTHA MEJIA: [subtitles] We said, “Let’s do a strike.” But it wasn’t just a hunger strike to create pressure. It was also to cleanse ourselves. Why? Because we felt dirty, we felt defiled, mistreated.
[subtitles] Governor, listen! We are fighting. Enough already!
ALEJANDRA VALLES: They were on their fourth day of fasting and not eating. There was just a lot of emotion in the air. We were tired. And all of a sudden, the governor’s staff, top staff, come down and they said, “The governor has signed the law.” There was just this emotion of disbelief or of also empowerment, of them saying, “We did this. We did it. And he signed it.”
MARTHA MEJIA: [subtitles] We were in shock. We cried. We hugged. It was beautiful. I felt I had freed something from my body and my spirit. I forgave the person who harmed me. It felt, oh my God, so special.
LORENA GONZALEZ FLETCHER: We’re at a time where things are changing now. And luckily, there are a lot of women coming forward, being able to tell their stories. And so if we don’t take this moment in history and use it to protect the very—the most vulnerable workers among us, that we don’t take the opportunity for this movement to embrace low-wage service workers, hourly workers, women who are barely getting by, those who might be undocumented, then we’re letting a moment pass.
ALEJANDRA VALLES: [at rally] [subtitles] Each one of you touched the governor’s heart.
WOMEN: [subtitles] Enough! Enough!
ALEJANDRA VALLES: We’ve made a lot of strides, but it’s not over. The culture right now as it stands has not been fixed and say, “Oh, great. Next.” It’s something that we just started. There’s still a lot of work to be done.
WOMEN: [chanting] [subtitles] Women united will never be defeated!