Believed to be largest civil rights resolution for the state in Washington history
OLYMPIA — Attorney General Bob Ferguson today announced that Mukilteo-based aerospace company Electroimpact will pay $485,000 after an investigation alleging discrimination by the company, retaliation against employees, and unfair or deceptive advertising. The company will also change its hiring practices and conduct outreach to minority applicants.
An investigation by the Attorney General’s Wing Luke Civil Rights Unit found evidence that Electroimpact and its president, Peter Zieve, refused to hire Muslim applicants, engaged in religious and/or national origin harassment, discriminated against employees based on marital status, and retaliated against employees who opposed such unfair practices. The investigation also found the company engaged in unfair or deceptive practices by describing itself as an equal opportunity employer in advertising.
“The conduct outlined in our complaint is outrageous,” Ferguson said. “Discriminating against workers and retaliating against anyone who questions it is illegal.”
Zieve posted job ads on Craigslist, Indeed and CareerBuilder and had primary responsibility for screening applicants and conducting final interviews. Almost all job ads requested applicants “attach a recent picture of [themselves.]”
The complaint alleges that Zieve screened out applicants that affirmatively indicated that they were Muslim, or that Zieve perceived to be Muslim based on their name, photograph, national origin and/or application.
As a result, 94.5 percent of Electroimpact’s 474 engineers are white, according to a June 30, 2016 report to the U.S. Department of Labor. The complaint alleges that these practices make Electroimpact’s claim that it is an “equal opportunity employer” false advertising.
Electroimpact also maintained a listserv where employees discussed and shared “jokes.” Many emails and “jokes” posted to the listserv were demeaning to Muslims or those perceived to be Muslim.
For example, one employee emailed: “How do you save half the Muslims? Kill the other half.”
Zieve encouraged employees’ conduct on the listserv and often engaged in similar conduct.
On Dec. 3, 2015, Zieve emailed the listserv regarding the mass killing in San Bernardino and stated in the subject line, “With the stupidity in the highest office” and in the email body stated: “we might as well lay down across railroad tracks. And they sue the states that refuse to take Syrian refugees.” When an employee noted that one of the San Bernardino attackers was born in the United States, Zieve responded to the listserv: “American born Muslims are almost as dangerous as the Syrian imports.”
Zieve encouraged employees to engage in conduct that degraded Muslims. On May 6, 2015, Zieve emailed an employee a smiley face emoji after the employee sent him an email that stated: “The winning drawing at the ‘Draw Mohammad’ art contest in Garland, Texas” and attached an image of a chalk outline of a dead body.
Zieve likewise recruited employees to participate in a neighborhood group that opposed the construction of a mosque in Mukilteo and to attend events regarding perceived flaws within Islam.
Electroimpact provided a bonus program to employees, in addition to their regular salary, that was available at Zieve’s discretion. The bonus was added to employees’ regular paycheck.
Until July 2016, Zieve exercised that discretion by providing Electroimpact employees who got married with a bonus.
The purpose of the “marriage bonus,” and an additional “children bonus” for those employees with children, was to encourage Electroimpact employees to procreate.
In a Dec. 19, 2015 email to the entire company, Zieve stated: “The future can only be secured by building families. I will not go south on the family benefits. Consider that an annuity. The birth rate is still low for a young group like we have. . . I believe the financial benefits are helping people to make the right decisions. Since the marriages underpin henceforth I will bring a $1000 personal check to any marriage I attend. This is in addition to the $1,000 you get in your paycheck.”
In another email, dated Feb. 6, 2015, Zieve stated: “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.”
In a Oct. 2, 2015, email to the company, Zieve responded to an employee’s announcement that his wife gave birth to a girl by stating: “I note that 381,000 terrorist savages have gotten into Europe so far this year and if we don’t make more babies the light will out on civilization” and included a link to an article about the meaning of God’s mandate that Adam and Eve be “fruitful and multiply.”
In addition to providing “marriage bonuses,” Zieve sometimes pressured employees into getting married. In October 2015, for example, an employee working at the Mukilteo campus requested that Zieve approve renewal of his work visa. Zieve initially refused, stating, “Isn’t there an American girl you can marry?”
Although Zieve eventually agreed to renew the employee’s work visa, he warned the employee in an email: “Last time I am doing this guaranteed. Get married. Join the human race.”
Some Electroimpact employees are retaliated against when they express opposition to Electroimpact’s discriminatory practices.
On March 27, 2015, for example, Zieve emailed the company on one of the email chains from the “Jokes” list. Zieve’s email included an article suggesting that the suicidal Germanwings co-pilot was a “Muslim convert” and a “hero of the Islamic state.”
One employee responded, “I am not on the jokes list and do not wish to be.”
Immediately afterwards, Zieve both called and emailed the employee, telling her that it was “time for [her] to leave [Electroimpact].” Over the phone, Zieve told her that this was his company and that if she didn’t agree with his beliefs, she had to leave.
Realizing that the company owner wanted her to leave, the employee was forced to find another job and quit several months later.
On March 22, 2016, Zieve discriminated against another employee in a similar manner. After receiving an email that seemingly derided Islam as the “religion of peace,” the employee pleaded that the group “not do this” because “world cultures are too complicated to discuss in a jokes email list.” Within 15 minutes, Zieve informed the listserv that he had just looked up the employee’s phone number and that the employee “[was] out of line.”
In a consent decree filed yesterday in Snohomish County Superior Court, Electroimpact agreed to pay $485,000, which will be used to cover restitution, damages, and the Attorney General’s Office’s costs to enforce the Washington Law Against Discrimination and the Consumer Protection Act, and:
- Zieve will no longer participate in evaluating individual candidates for non-management positions;
- Electroimpact will no longer base compensation decisions on a change in marital status;
- Someone other than Zieve will be designated to accept employee complaints and the employee handbook will be changed to reflect that Electroimpact prohibits harassment based on all protected classes;
- The company will provide annual trainings about their obligations under the WLAD (the first to take place within 90 days);
- Electroimpact will make reasonable efforts to increase its hiring of minorities, including advertising every internship and full-time employment opportunity to minority engineering organizations, hosting two events with minority student associations at Electroimpact’s facilities on a semi-annual basis, and conducting at least two recruitment events with minority engineering organizations on a semi-annual basis; and
- Electroimpact will provide semi-annual reports to the state including a summary of all complaints made against Electroimpact or its agents in the previous six month period about discrimination or harassment based on religion, national origin or marital status.
If you believe you experienced discrimination, harassment, or retaliation while employed at Electroimpact, please call the Attorney General’s Office toll free at (844) 323-3864 or email email@example.com, by Oct. 1, 2017.
Assistant Attorney General Marsha Chien handled the case.
The Wing Luke Civil Rights Unit was created in 2015 to protect the rights of all Washington residents by enforcing state and federal anti-discrimination laws. It is named for Wing Luke, who served as an Assistant Attorney General for the state of Washington in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He went on to become the first person of color elected to the Seattle City Council and the first Asian-American elected to public office in the Pacific Northwest.
More information about Washington’s civil rights laws in employment is available at http://www.hum.wa.gov/employment. Individuals who believe they have been victims of employment discrimination can file a complaint with the Human Rights Commission at http://www.hum.wa.gov/discrimination-complaint or can contact the Office of the Attorney General at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Peter Lavallee, Communications Director, (360) 586-0725; PeterL@atg.wa.gov