Wilder sues VCU, says school failed to fairly process harassment claims

Posted at 3:58 PM, Mar 21, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-21 15:58:50-04

RICHMOND, Va. – Former Virginia Governor L. Douglas Wilder has filed a suit against multiple parties at Virginia Commonwealth University, alleging school officials failed to fairly process allegations of sexual harassment and abuse brought forward by his administrative assistant and failed to implement any discipline against the abusive employee.

Wilder, a professor at the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, filed the suit in Richmond Circuit Court on Monday. Other parties named in the suit, in addition to the university, are VCU President Michael Rao and VCU Provost Gail Hackett.

The suit alleges that in Nov. 2017, John Accordino, dean of the school named after Wilder, violated university rules when he verbally assaulted and abused Wilder’s assistant Angelica Bega. Wilder was not present when Accordino dropped by, and according to the suit, insulted her intelligence, threatened her employment with VCU and “generally disparaged her humanity.”

The suit alleges that Accordino’s abuse “was such that others within the department, throughout the building, heard his harangue.”

Associate Professor Dr. Kristine Artello informed Wilder that she heard the event through her closed office door and volunteered to provide a written account of Accordino’s alleged abuse.

Wilder, however, alleges that the investigation led by the Provost’s Office failed at multiple points to fairly process Bega’s complaint, and incorrectly concluded that Bega was uninterested in filing a complaint.

Wilder next reported the allegations to VCU’s Human Resources Department and President Rao, where the verbal abuse was identified as sexual harassment and both racial and sexual discrimination.

VCU Public Affairs confirmed that out-of-state firm Seyfarth Shaw was retained to investigate the claims.

According to the suit, Wilder claims that their investigation found the claims against Accordino were credible.  Wilder claims that Provost Hackett attempted to interfere with the investigation.

The suit also alleges that Accordino, because he was never disciplined, was able to continue confrontational, abusive behavior in his supervisory position, and that no efforts were made to protect the affected staff.

Wilder claims that Accordino was emboldened by lack of discipline and threatened litigation against Wilder. The suit seeks for a Declaratory Judgement against the named parties, a $2,500 civil penalty against VCU, and an injunction protecting staff involved in the suit from further retaliation.

VCU’s Public Affairs office released a statement which said they haven’t been served with the suit and would not discuss pending litigation.

Accordino, whose career at the University stretches back over 30 years, was named dean to the Wilder school effective March 1, after serving for almost a year as the interim dean.

VCU Public Affairs responded that they do not comment on personnel issues when asked if any prior human resource complaints were made against Accordino.

“For the past 30 years, John Accordino has been a leader in the university and the community, as well as an accomplished scholar and teacher,” wrote Hackett, at the time his position was announced. “His deep commitment to VCU, our faculty and our students provides a firm foundation on which to launch new and dynamic opportunities within the Wilder School.”

The suit was first reported by Brad Kutner, for Style Weekly. The suit can be read below, or here. 

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