Three Hemet-area women have come forward with allegations of sexual harassment involving a Stater Bros. store manager and two of the grocery chain’s area locations. One of the stores is in Hemet on W. Florida and N. Sanderson Avenues and the other is in San Jacinto on S. San Jacinto and W. Esplanade Avenues.
Court documents revealed Hemet resident David Gonzalez is the store manager the three victims allege was involved in multiple acts of aggressive sexual harassment that took place at the two Stater Bros., as well as a sexual assault one of the victims claimed happened at Gonzalez’ residence.
The first reported incidents happened to two different woman at a Hemet Stater Bros. Another incident involving one of the two original victims allegedly happened at Gonzalez’ Hemet residence.
A third woman was reportedly victimized after Stater Bros. corporate officials made the decision to transfer Gonzalez from the Hemet Stater Bros. to another Stater Bros. in San Jacinto, located just over four miles away from the first location.
The three women, who have all hired attorneys to represent them, came forward to say not only were they repeatedly sexually harassed by Gonzalez, they also claim their supervisors did not take appropriate action to protect them or other employees and seemed to allow the harassment to continue.
The lawsuit also alleges that by transferring him to another, nearby store, Stater Bros. corporate officials essentially gave Gonzalez a whole new group of potential victims to choose from.
Gonzalez has already retained his own attorney to fight the allegations. According to his attorney, Alan Leahey, Gonzalez has denied each of the the allegations listed in lawsuit filed by the three women.
“He would get up close to me, and rub himself on me.
I felt trapped and helpless…I just couldn’t take it anymore.”
One of the victims, Kayla Swanger told ABC7 News she first reported the harassment to her supervisor; however she said the supervisor “kinda shrugged it off like it’s no big deal.” The supervisor reportedly replied to Swanger, “We all know David (Gonzalez) is like that.”
After the harassment continued, Swanger – who has worked at Stater Bros. for 11 years – reported the incident to a second supervisor. Swanger said in spite of her two complaints against Gonzalez, nothing was done to change the situation.
With the harassment continuing after two supervisors allegedly failed to do anything to change the situation, Swanger said she was forced to file a formal complaint with the Stater Bros. corporate office.
In the complaint, Swanger – who said her goal had been to progress her career at the grocery store and eventually move up in the company – said even though she filed a formal complaint and tried to maintain a professional relationship with Gonzalez, the harassment continued and became more personal and disturbing.
“He would say things to me such as, ‘You look so sexy today’,” Swanger told ABC7 News.
“He would get up close to me, and rub himself on me,” Swanger explained. “I just couldn’t take it anymore.”
Swanger said the situation and especially the lack of action or appropriate response from Stater Bros. corporate made her feel “trapped and helpless.”
Lured with lies and intimidated by threats,
one victim claimed she was sexually assaulted at her manager’s Hemet residence
Another victim, Rubi Camarena is suing both Gonzalez and Stater Bros. after she said Gonzalez tricked her into coming over to his house, telling her there would be other coworkers as well as members of his family at his home.
When Camarena balked, Gonzalez allegedly threatened her, telling her if she didn’t come over he would “demote her.”
Fearing she could be demoted or fired, Camarena said she reluctantly went to her manager’s home.
To her shock and surprise, when she arrived at Gonzalez’ Hemet residence, she realized Gonzalez had not invited anyone else and she was at the home alone with him.
Camarena said she eventually had to flee from Gonzalez’ home after he sexually assaulted her.
In court documents, Camarena claimed that shortly after she arrived at Gonzalez’ residence he offered her a drink, which she turned down. Gonzalez then allegedly jumped on top of her, “pushing his body on top of hers.”
Camarena alleged during the sexual assault, Gonzalez taunted her, reportedly saying, “Don’t you think if I wanted to rape you I would have done that by now?”
Camarena managed to get away from Gonzalez and she fled from his residence. According to Camarena, her manager chased her out of his house, and warned her not to tell anyone about what happened.
Another store, another victim…
“It made me feel unsafe (and) made me not want to come to work anymore.”
In response to Swanger’s multiple complaints, Stater Bros. finally made the decision to transfer Gonzalez from the Hemet store to one of their San Jacinto locations, just miles away from the first grocery store.
Documents revealed that after Gonzalez was transferred to the San Jacinto Stater Bros., his inappropriate behavior continued and he allegedly victimized a third woman, also a Hemet resident.
In court documents, the third victim, Christa Burnett, said after Gonzalez was transferred to the San Jacinto Stater Bros., she became one of his next targets.
“He would run his fingers down my spine on the check-stand, in front of customers,” Burnett told ABC7 News. “He started kissing up my arm, and holding my hand.”
“It made me feel unsafe,” Burnett said.”(It) made me not want to come to work anymore.”
Many questions left unanswered
as the case continues to unfold and area residents demand answers
“I hope Stater Bros. will take some action against this manager and supervisors that allow this to happen,” area resident Corine Quintana-Zamudio said in response to hearing about the alleged incidents.
“Do not cover up this up. Your reputation is at stake,” Quintana-Zamudio warned the grocery store chain. “Keep in mind how many women shop at Staters.”
Rancho Cucamonga resident Linda Flechtner, who said she worked in the grocery industry for over twenty years said, “Sexual harassment in the grocery industry is out of control. Managers schedule your hours, and if you complain, you lose hours and sometimes benefits. I have seen it at all levels.”
Court documents show Stater Bros. has denied the allegations contained in the three women’s lawsuits.
During a phone call to the Stater Bros corporate office an employee who refused to be identified said, “We do not provide comments on matters of pending litigation.”
According to ABC7 News, Gonzalez’ attorney said, “Mr. Gonzalez does have a lot to say about the allegations, but he will do so at the appropriate time and in a court of law.”
Because both Stater Bros. and Gonzalez’ attorney have refused to discuss the incident, it is not known if he still works at either of the two stores.
This is a breaking news story and additional information will be updated as it becomes available.