City council candidate accused of discrimination, unfair hiringon October 16, 2013 @ 12:52 pm (Updated: 2:17 pm - 10/16/13 )
As part of a two-month long "On Assignment" investigation, KIRO Radio reported on Alan Kiest, 64, a high-level state employee with the Washington Department of Social and Health Services accused of making unwanted advances toward a 25-year-old employee.
On August 14, Kiest was placed on reassignment from his position as administrator of the King Eastside Community Service Office (CSO) in Bellevue, where people apply for government assistance.
As part of the investigation into the incident that led to Kiest's transfer, KIRO Radio uncovered allegations of racial discrimination while reviewing letters written to DSHS Regional Administrator Deborah Doyle about Kiest and the office he ran in Bellevue.
From May to June 2012, 20 individuals, all of whom were either former or current employees of the Bellevue CSO at the time, wrote letters to Doyle. Copies of the letters were delivered to KIRO Radio by a DSHS employee.
The letters complained of a "toxic" work environment that Kiest had been fostering for years.
"What happens here is insidious," one employee wrote.
"There is a dark cloud that hangs over this office," wrote another.
"No one can change Alan, he is who he is. No one can make him become more compassionate and human or humane," read a letter. "He is strict, stern, cold and punitive and he will NEVER change."
"I could not live with myself if I affected past and present staff so negatively as CSOA Alan Kiest has throughout his reign at King Eastside SCO. I don't know how he sleeps at night," a staff member wrote.
"He is ruthless in his dealing with staff. He teaches his supervisors to be uncaring and petty."
While the letters detailed a variety of complaints, KIRO Radio began to investigate allegations that Kiest discriminated against African and African American employees, while giving preferential treatment to Asians.
Ben Hu, 35, of Federal Way, was hired as a financial services specialist at the Bellevue CSO in June 2012. Hu was born in Taiwan.
"For some reason (Kiest) likes to hire Asian people," he said.
Hu told KIRO Radio that when he was brought on at the Bellevue office, Kiest told him he was being hired because Asians are good at math.
"Therefore, you know, they can be more suitable for the job because the job requires a lot of detail attention as far as issuing benefits," he said. "I was a little bit uncomfortable."
Two of the letters sent to Doyle also mentioned Kiest's perceived preference for Asian employees.
"Alan continues to hire a disproportionate number of Asians," one employee wrote.
"I think he thinks that Asians are obedient and will not stand up for themselves," wrote another.
A letter written by Alvin Lofton, a former DSHS Bellevue CSO employee, focused on what he perceived as unfair treatment toward African Americans.
"I recently retired in lieu of termination and agreed not to pursue any personnel related legal actions against DSHS," he wrote in his letter. "The personnel related legal actions include racial discrimination complaints, interference with my duties as a shop steward, and lack of due process in disciplinary procedures."
Lofton, who is African American, went on to write that the office had a reputation of being "non-African American friendly."
"An African American male who was assigned as a supervisor on a temporary basis to the King East office came to me with this question: 'What's up with Alan Kiest?'" he wrote.
"Black people who work at King East, in general, transfer out or are terminated or quit under duress."
Lofton had previously testified as a witness in a discrimination and retaliation lawsuit brought about by a black employee named Salahadin Z. Wazir. The 1999 lawsuit named DSHS and four DSHS employees, including Alan Kiest.
Wazir was hired on with the DSHS in September of 1992. Part of his time with the agency was spent at the CSO in Bellevue, where Kiest was in charge.
An Ethiopian national, he left the country as a political refugee and came to the United States in 1990. Wazir had a degree in sociology and spoke four languages - English, Italian, Arabic, and Somali. Prior to coming to the U.S., he worked for the State Department at the American Embassy in Rome.
At the beginning of his career with DSHS, Wazir received exemplary reviews of his work. But, his attorney told a jury during civil proceedings that his evaluations turned poor after he filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) about his treatment as a black man.
Wazir claimed he was called a "N---er" and told to "Go back to Africa," by two female supervisors at an office in Renton.
When Wazir first applied to be transferred to the Bellevue CSO in 1995, a witness testified under oath that Alan Kiest inquired about Wazir's race. The witness said Kiest asked her if Wazir was black. When she said "yes," the woman testified that Kiest responded, in reference to Wazir's ethnicity, 'We need one in every unit.'"
When Kiest gave his deposition in the case in August 2000, he was asked under oath whether that statements attributed to him were accurate.
Question: (Following) the interview, did you ask her if Mr. Wazir was black?
Kiest: It was reported to me, I think during the interview, that he was.
Question: And when Ms. Thomas-Botham confirmed Mr. Wazir's dark skin color, did you state to her that, "We need one in every unit?"
Kiest: Let me think about that for a second. There was a discussion about the racial profile of the staff of the office and the fact that, at least in comparison to the King County population, the office was a little low on some of the racial groups and because of that, it was desirable to move a little bit more toward the profile of the client population in King County.
Kiest was also asked about the racial breakdown of his office at the time.
Question: Now, of the 70 employees, about, under you at King Eastside now, how many blacks are there?
Kiest: I believe one.
Seattle attorney Mark Shepherd represented Wazir during the civil proceedings and questioned Kiest during his deposition. According to Shepherd, witnesses testified at trial that Wazir was retaliated against after filing an EEOC complaint about discriminatory treatment.
"A number of witnesses testified that Mr. Wazir was subjected to undo criticism, scrutiny, was given an unrealistic workload, and was given negative evaluations when in fact he was a very productive worker," Shepherd said. "There was a concerted effort, according to various witnesses, to build a case against Mr. Wazir to lead to his termination."
From 1992 to 1998, Wazir's personnel file had roughly 200 pages in it, most of which were pay notations and other various notes, Shepherd said. In the seven months after he filed an EEOC complaint against Mr. Kiest and other supervisors, his personnel file swelled to 1,000 pages, he said.
"It seemed that (Wazir's) race and his unwillingness to be unfairly subjected to racism is what doomed him at King Eastside," Shepherd said. "One could surmise from (Kiest's) initial question about Mr. Wazir's race, that he certainly played a prominent role in the entire, unfortunate event."
In April 2001, a jury awarded Wazir a $507,161 judgment in the case, including attorney fees, on the basis of retaliation.
The facts of the case, as presented at trial, caught the attention of Charles Stockton, an African American who had also worked at the Bellevue CSO.
Stockton, 60, of Auburn, had been working as a juvenile rehabilitation supervisor at Echo Glen Children's Center, a youth detention facility. He said he suffered a back injury while trying to restrain an inmate and, after a secondary injury, was placed on reasonable accommodation and told he could take a job as a social worker at the CSO in Bellevue under Alan Kiest. He accepted the job and began in March 2010.
Stockton said other employees warned him when he started about the attitude in the office towards black men.
"They said, 'We knew when you first came on that you weren't going to be here long," he said. "Alan does not like African Americans.'"
In fact, one of the letters written to Deborah Doyle in 2012 mentioned Stockton. KIRO Radio read a portion of the letter, which was written by a past employee, to Stockton and his wife as they sat at the kitchen table in their Auburn home.
"I saw no effort on management's part to make him feel welcome or even try to help him learn his job. I felt sorry for him and felt that he must have been miserable to be in our office under such hostile conditions," the employee wrote.
Stockton, who choked back tears as the letter was read, said he believes he was given an unrealistic workload with little or no training so there would be a reason to get rid of him.
"The amount of work that was assigned to me, versus the time element to get it done, leads me to feel that this whole process was designed for me to fail," he said.
In January 2012, Stockton said he was called into a meeting with Kiest and handed a separation letter. The letter informed him that he would no longer be working at the Bellevue CSO, he said. He said Kiest refused to tell him why, expect to say that he "didn't fit in" at the office.
"And I took that to mean, 'You, as a black person, you didn't fit here,'" he said. "He wanted the Bellevue office to resemble something that he created in his mind."
Stockton complained about that statement in an email to his reasonable accommodations specialist shortly after he said it happened.
"Causal feelings of a person is fine, as long as it does not violate someone's civil rights. I sit here today, full of those very feelings, that my civil rights are being violated at this very moment," he wrote.
"I've never played the race card in my life," said Stockton, who said he went from picking cotton in Tuskegee, Ala., to serving in the military and even had a job tracking satellites for NASA. "I've seen racism. I've never seen anyone like Alan in my entire life. I've never ran into an individual quite like him. So cold. So callous."
"I want to believe the best in people," he said. "I wish I could believe that Alan's actions weren't what they were. But they were. I think it was racism. The impact was devastating."
Stockton said he chose to speak out about Kiest when he learned of his candidacy for city council.
"He hurts people," Stockton said of Kiest. "And he does it knowingly."
Kiest and the Department of Social and Health Services declined to comment, pending an ongoing state patrol investigation into the incident that led to Keist's transfer.
"KIRO Radio On Assignment" features in-depth, investigative reports on a variety of topics including government accountability, consumer advocacy and the criminal justice system. To send a KIRO Radio reporter "On Assignment," email firstname.lastname@example.org or use our online form.
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