VCU dean removed from his position after former governor’s harassment lawsuit

Photo courtesy of Capital News Service.

A university official who was sued for harassment by former Virginia Gov. L Douglas Wilder says he has been removed from his post on false claims and is counter suing, the latest episode in a saga which has pitted Wilder against the dean of the school bearing his name at VCU.

John Accordino will no longer head the Wilder School despite his denial of the accusation, university officials told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Accordino says he was removed from the position, but university officials indicate the decision was mutual.

“The situation has caused a considerable amount of distraction from the core business of the Wilder School,” said VCU Vice President and Provost Gail Hackett in an email to faculty and staff obtained by the Times-Dispatch. “Although Dean Accordino specifically denies allegations in the lawsuit and will defend himself against them, in consideration of the greater mission of the school and the university, he has agreed to step aside.”

Hackett, along with President Michael Rao, is named in the suit, but university officials declined to comment, citing pending litigation. Wilder’s complaint, which was filed in the Richmond Circuit Court March 19, says Rao refused to properly address Accordino’s actions and Hackett conducted a “farcical and corrupt investigation” after Wilder met with her and Rao to notify them of Bega’s allegations.

Accordino will receive an additional $80,000 in “supplemental pay” over the next three years from VCU, the Times-Dispatch reported. He will spend the next year and a half on paid “study-research leave” before he returns to teach as a tenured faculty member in the fall of 2019.

Accordino filed a countersuit March 30 seeking $150,000 in damages, accusing the former governor of defamation and interfering with his contract with VCU. In the countersuit, Accordino says Hackett and Rao privately support him but removed him anyway out of fear of Wilder.

Wilder’s suit asserts Accordino called Bega “obscene names,” threatened to fire her, accused her of violating human resources rules and “questioned and insulted her intelligence.”

When Wilder met with Rao, Hackett and Kevin Allison, Rao’s senior assistant, Hackett assured everyone present that Bega did not want to report Accordino to the university, according to the court document. However, the lawsuit says Bega later denied to Wilder she had ever told Hackett that and stated “unequivocally” that she wanted to move forward with a complaint to the university.

“Upon being confronted with Ms. Bega’s statement, it was conceded Ms. Bega had never stated that she did not wish for her complaint to move forward,” the court document states.

The lawsuit says Wilder told Rao and Hackett that the provost’s office was “compromised and unable to faithfully process” Bega’s complaint. Wilder reported Accordino’s actions to VCU’s Office of Human Resources as sexual harassment, and racial and sexual discrimination.

The suit says Wilder, who holds the rank of distinguished professor at VCU, was not present when the incident between Accordino and Bega occurred, but Kristine Artello, an assistant professor at the Wilder School, notified Wilder of the incident.

Accordino has been the dean of the Wilder School for one year. Before that, he held the position on an interim basis since July 2016.


Fadel Allassan, Managing Editor

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