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Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Zia Chishti Steps Down as C.E.O. of Afiniti

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The chief executive of Afiniti, an artificial-intelligence software firm, has resigned, the company announced on Thursday, two days after a former employee testified before a congressional committee that the executive had sexually assaulted and beat her.

The company’s board of directors said the executive, Zia Chishti, who also founded the company, had “stepped down from his role as chairman, chief executive officer and director of Afiniti, effective immediately,” according to a statement on the company’s website.

“The board will make additional organizational announcements in the coming days,” the statement said.

On Tuesday, Tatiana Spottiswoode, the former employee, testified before the House Judiciary Committee that Mr. Chishti harassed her for months after she began working for the company in 2016, when she was about 23 years old.

She said that he had sent her an email describing a sexual fantasy in which he strangled her and that he had once grabbed her buttocks in front of other employees.

Then, during a business trip to Brazil in 2017, he sexually assaulted and beat her, Ms. Spottiswoode testified. When she hired lawyers and accused him of attacking her, she said, he filed for arbitration against her.

“He knew that the secrecy of arbitration would protect him,” Ms. Spottiswoode said.

Ms. Spottiswoode said that when she started at Afiniti, she signed a contract that included “an arbitration agreement with a strong confidentiality clause.”

The same day as Ms. Spottiswoode’s testimony, a spokeswoman for Afiniti said in a statement that the company had investigated the claims “with independent counsel and concluded that the arbitral decision she references was erroneous.”

“Zia Chishti strongly disputes all accusations against him,” the spokeswoman, Natalie Cerny, said at the time. Reached on Friday, Ms. Cerny declined to comment on the record.

Mr. Chishti, 50, said on Friday that he denied “all the allegations.”

“I believe the evidence does not support them,” he said. “Quite to the contrary.”

Mr. Chishti added that he was “deeply supportive of women in the workplace.”

“It’s one of my priorities to see that they do absolutely as well as they can,” he said. “As a result these allegations are particularly hurtful.”

Ms. Spottiswoode’s testimony also led David Cameron, the former British prime minister, to resign as chairman of the company’s advisory board, according to the BBC.

Mr. Cameron said in a statement to the BBC that he understood that the allegations were in dispute but that he “disagrees with the approach being taken by the company in responding to the matter.”

Ms. Spottiswoode was one of four women who testified before the committee, which was considering legislation that would abolish forced arbitration for victims of sexual assault and harassment. Forced arbitration often requires an employee to go through a private proceeding with his or her employer after bringing an accusation of workplace misconduct, according to legislators.

On Wednesday, the committee agreed 27-to-14 to put the bill before the House for a vote. The bill has bipartisan support.



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