Puget Sound Energy (PSE), a utility company in Washington, sent Erica Conway, a Black woman, a racial slur as the temporary password for her online account. PSE claims it was a mistake, but Conway, a longtime volunteer of the Seattle chapter of the NAACP, refutes that — she said it was intentional. Kimberly J. Harris is president and CEO of PSE.
Harris leads an executive leadership team that is all white. Conway said past temporary passcodes she’s received were just random letters, but not this time.
“I clicked ‘forgot password’ and got a temporary password from PSE and it was capital N-I-G-G-A and I was quite shocked,” Conway told KIRO7. “It was like an emotional roller coaster. Shock, disbelief, disgusted, angry. It was just, yeah, even now I’m just kind of like I cannot believe this. I just can’t believe it.”
Conway told a PSE customer service agent about the password she received, but the agent didn’t take her complaint seriously, she said. “You guys didn’t screen out this word”’ Conway told KIRO7 she asked the agent. “And she said, ‘Why would we” and I said, “What do you mean why would we This is an offensive word.’ And she stated to me, ‘No one uses that word anymore.’ And I was, like, where are you living, what planet are you living on”
The agent told Conway she’s heard the word before “in the movies by African Americans.” “I said, ‘I think we need to stop this conversation,'” Conway told K5News.
PSE is headquartered in Bellevue. The city’s population is estimated at 144,444 residents of which 56.8 percent are white, 2.7 percent Black, 33 percent Asian, 7 percent Latino and less than one percent American Indian. The company said sending the racial slur to Conway was a computer-generated mistake. Janet Kim, PSE spokeswoman, told KIRO7 that the password was offensive and apologized “to this customer” and “the community, for what has happened.”
“These passwords are generated automatically so they go straight from the system straight to the customers,” Kim said. “So, it’s not able to be accessed by an employee.”
That may be the case. But whom is PSE using to create its computer programs and algorithms “Since this happened, we were able to go into there and put some parameters so we could eliminate the ability for the system to generate any sort of words,” Kim told K5News.