Electroimpact’s Zieve says he’s victim of state’s probe

Aerospace company president reacts to state’s allegations
By Nicholas Johnson | Mar 29, 2017
Courtesy of: Peter Zieve Peter Zieve, president of Electroimpact, right, sits with Mohammed Riaz Khan, president of the Islamic Center of Mukilteo, on Friday, March 24, at a Starbucks in Mukilteo. The two got together to discuss the news of allegations against Zieve and his company by the state Attorney General’s office.

Ask Electroimpact President Peter Zieve about allegations that his company has harassed, discriminated and retaliated against employees, and he’ll tell you he’s the victim.

“I built a company from dirt and water and planted the seeds in this state and they are persecuting me,” Zieve told the Beacon on Monday, March 27.

“And we’re paying their salaries to do this. I can’t believe that’s what we pay public employees to do: read through my emails to find things to embarrass me.”

Zieve not only maintains he did nothing wrong, he says he’s not embarrassed by allegations the state Attorney General’s office has made in a lawsuit filed in Snohomish County Superior Court on Thursday, March 23.

That suit won’t go forward under the terms of a consent decree filed the same day. The decree requires the Mukilteo-based aerospace company to pay $485,000 and remove Zieve from its hiring efforts.

The court-monitored decree, in effect for 42 months, comes after a nearly yearlong investigation by the Attorney General’s Wing Luke Civil Rights Unit, which found evidence that the company violated state law by discriminating against employees and applicants on the basis of religion and marital status.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson described the alleged conduct as “outrageous” and “shocking.”

The investigation began after Zieve was tied to anonymous postcards mailed to Mukilteo residents notifying them of an Islamic group’s plan to build a mosque in the city. He later told the Beacon that the mosque is potentially “dangerous,” as it could become a “breeding place for terrorists.”

The investigation also came after an April 2016 Seattle Times story based on internal emails and employee allegations that Zieve had created a hostile workplace culture through harassment, retaliation and discrimination.

 

Allegations

Zieve, who directly handled hiring for the company he started in 1984, allegedly refused to hire Muslims, screening applicants by requesting photos and conducting interviews. The state also claims the company deceived job applicants by representing itself as an equal opportunity employer.

As of June 30, 2016, some 95 percent of the company’s U.S. engineers were white, according to a U.S. Department of Labor report.

The state claims Zieve used company resources to organize a “Mosque Watch” group to prevent construction of the proposed mosque. In an April 18, 2015, email to an employee on the subject, Zieve wrote, “I can tell you that most Chinese hate moslems. Not as much as me, but an adequate amount of hate.”

The state claims Zieve created a hostile work environment by maintaining a “Jokes” email listserv and encouraging employees to engage in conduct that demeans Muslims.

When an employee requested three more engineers on Jan. 21, 2016, Zieve allegedly replied, “I can send you two Iraq refugees immediately. They will be a bit sleepy since they are up all night making bombs. They are hard workers.”

Zieve told the Beacon he misses the listserv.

“I miss the jokes list,” he said. “It was such a fun thing to have. But, now we understand the attorney general owns Electroimpact, not me. They think they know better how to run it than I do.”

Ben Hempstead, the company’s chief of staff, said the company pulled the listserv down and pulled Zieve out of hiring efforts immediately after the April 2016 Seattle Times article came out.

“In three days we had shut off the listserv, and within a week we had stopped our hiring practices,” he said, noting that the company has since hired about a dozen new engineers.

“We don’t agree that these things are unlawful, but we have changed our practices so there is no longer an opportunity for discrimination. We know we could do things better.”

The state also claims Zieve encouraged his employees to get married and have children by offering bonuses.

On Feb. 6, 2015, Zieve allegedly sent an email to employees stating, “When [our sons and daughters] choose to not repopulate and allow our wonderful country to be backfilled with rubbish from the desperate and criminal populations of the third world[,] I find that to be disgusting and I find those persons to make these decisions to be repulsive and I don’t like them around me.”

Zieve said he believes the state is fining him over his policy of giving out marriage bonuses.

“I’d been doing it for 30 years,” he said. “When I didn’t have two nickels to rub together, I was giving $1,000 bonuses. This company was $50 in my back left pocket once upon a time. I’ve given away almost every dollar I’ve ever made, back to my employees. It is that giving back that they are fining me for.”

The state claims Zieve retaliated against employees who expressed opposition to his ideas by threatening to fire them or publicly reprimanding them. When an employee complained about receiving offensive emails through the listserv in May 2015, Zieve told her it was time for her to leave the company, the state claims. Zieve said that was all a big misunderstanding.

“This person didn’t know they were on the list; they thought they had been removed,” he said. “I thought this person was trying to tell me what I could put on the jokes list. That offended me. I mean, it was a jokes list.”

The decree requires the company to update its employee handbook, provide annual training sessions, reach out to minority student and trade associations when recruiting new employees and file written reports of its activities with the Attorney General’s office. It also states that the money collected from Electroimpact will, in part, be placed into a settlement fund.

In a March 23 memo to employees, Hempstead states that the company has already updated procedures for handling complaints and will soon provide additional training “to ensure that EI continues to be a welcoming and inclusive place for all.”

 

Khan and Zieve

Mohammed Riaz Khan, who has led the effort to build a mosque in Mukilteo, said he was saddened and disappointed upon reading the state’s allegations against Zieve. For his part, Zieve said he was confused by most of the allegations.

Khan said Zieve must do more than fix the way his company operates internally. He said Zieve must show the community, especially the Muslim community, that he has changed.

“If I were in his place, I would take responsibility and I would build the mosque – come out and say your vision is my vision,” he said. “The gifts he was giving to his employees should go to the community now. He should exchange his discrimination and retaliation for a mosque, and it should come from his heart.”

In the last month, the two men have twice gotten together over coffee to talk, most recently on Friday, March 24, after the news of the state’s investigation became public. Zieve has told Khan he won’t stand in the way of the mosque project, but he said he’s still not convinced a mosque is needed.

“I’m trying to understand why this is so important for him,” he said.

Khan said he asked Zieve to come to his rally for peace April 8 in Mukilteo. Zieve said he would be out of town.

“Khan wants me to join in with him in community meetings, and I’m considering it,” he said. “I’m still trying to understand what the guy’s all about. He’s a nice guy. He’s not going to go shooting anybody. But you don’t know who the next guy is that’s going to come along.”

Zieve said he still wonders if the Muslim community truly opposes terrorism and would work to keep Mukilteo safe from such an attack. He also said Khan and other Muslims could easily attend the mosque in Mountlake Terrace rather than build one here.

“I have to drive 10 miles to the local synagogue in Everett,” he said. “If I can go 10 miles, why can’t he?”

Khan said Zieve’s rhetoric has created an unwelcoming atmosphere that is making local Muslims afraid and causing them to leave.

“The people have so much fear, and they wonder why they stay here,” Khan said. “Some people I know are moving to Mill Creek because they don’t want to go through all this anymore.

“Why is it taking so long [to build the mosque]? Because of him and the fear he has created. These people left their homes years ago and came to America wanting a happy life, and this is what they find.”

Both say they are open to getting together and talking more. Khan said he hopes to help Zieve redeem his reputation in the community, and he wants him to know that all Muslims in Mukilteo want peace, safety and acceptance.

“Religious people are not extremists,” he said. “The radicals are extremists, and Muslims are not radicals. Christians and Jewish people are not radicals. Muslims are not who people think they are. We are against terrorism, because they are going against the will of God.”

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