by: Katie Doptis and Maria Guerrero Updated:
You may have never heard of ABM, but it's one of the largest building maintenance companies in the country. It specializes in custodial work, parking, security and other services.
But KIRO 7 goes beyond ABM's success and exposes complaints the company failed to protect female janitors from sexual violence.
Every night, ABM janitors clean office buildings across the country.
They often work in isolation, making women especially vulnerable.
And two women, both named Maria, spoke to KIRO 7 about the dangers.
Maria Bojorquez worked in San Francisco. The other Maria worked in Redmond and requested we not further identify her.
Maria spoke out for the first time about what she said happened last July when she was cleaning at Microsoft's Redmond campus.
“’No,’ I said. And he yanked me by my head. I told him no. ‘Please’, I said.”
She spoke to KIRO 7’s Maria Guerrero in Spanish.
Maria’s pain is raw and nearly unbearable.
“I feel depressed. I feel like I'm dirty,” she said. “I don't want to do anything. But I just fight for my daughter. If I didn't have my daughter, I would have already committed suicide.”
Former Microsoft engineer, Vineet Srivastava is awaiting trial, charged with raping Maria. He pleaded not guilty.
Maria said she immediately called a supervisor that night but was told not to call police.
Maria said managers told her, “if there is a problem I have to tell them so they can call police.”
Redmond police records obtained by KIRO 7 show ABM management didn't report Maria's rape allegation for two days.
In Maria Bojorquez's case, she said management never reported her rape to police.
“I wanted to talk and say what happened to me,” Bojorquez said through a translator. “They didn't let me. I wanted to go out, scream about what happened to me.”
A jury awarded Bojorquez $812,000 after she sued ABM for sexual harassment and retaliation in 2010.
Bojorquez was cleaning San Francisco's Ferry Building when a supervisor raped her.
“I felt very embarrassed. I don't know, I felt horrible,” Bojorquez said.
Searching through thousands of California court records, KIRO 7 discovered ABM has been sued at least six times for sexual harassment in the past seven years with payouts totaling more than $6.7 million.
A judge recently found in ABM’s favor in one of those cases but the woman’s attorney said they plan to appeal.
In 2007, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Los Angeles filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of 21 women it claims were subjected to "a sexually harassing hostile environment."
Jose Vasquez, best highlights the terrifying working conditions.
Vasquez is a registered sex offender who, according to documents, was convicted of rape and was later hired by ABM to supervise women.
In the civil suit, he was accused of raping an employee and groping others. The company settled for $5.8 million but denied wrongdoing.
“We found there was a very disturbing pattern of cases involving really pervasive and or really egregious physical sexual violence against the most vulnerable and the lowest wage portions of ABM’s workforce,” said Equal Rights Advocate director Jennifer Reisch.
Reisch is an attorney representing Borjorquez.
A jury believed Bojorquez and found ABM liable but the company is appealing.
KIRO 7 met with ABM’s human resources director at its Seattle office last year when we first learned of Maria’s rape allegations and discovered police documents showing the company failed to call police for days afterwards.
We were told company procedures require supervisors to report crimes immediately. However, ABM would not explain the apparent breakdown in policy in Maria’s case.
We also contacted headquarters, but representatives cited the criminal case for declining to comment.
More recently, KIRO 7 again contacted ABM’s corporate communications manager, Chas Strong, in Atlanta and offered to meet him there for an interview. He initially did not respond to the request.
Instead, Strong emailed this statement hours before our stories were set to air:
ABM takes these issues very seriously. We constantly work to provide all of our employees a professional and safe work environment free of harassment, discrimination, or retaliation of any kind. We have strong policies and practices in place, including a policy against harassment in the workplace, harassment training conducted for janitors and forepersons, harassment training for supervisors, harassment posters in the workplace, payroll stuffers with harassment and discrimination information, and others. Employees are given a variety of ways to report allegations, including a multi-lingual anonymous hotline operated by a third party. Given that these are pending legal matters, we cannot discuss the specific circumstances of these cases. In fact, these are claims that are several years old. In any event, the claims are without legal merit.
Whatever the outcome in Borjorquez’s ongoing case, she believes other victims must speak out.
“Women must not remain silent,” she said, “It's very painful remaining silent.”
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