Ex-Gov. Doug Wilder sues VCU leaders after personnel dispute

July 19, 2022 GMT

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Former Virginia Gov. Doug Wilder recently sued leaders of the Richmond university where he works following a public personnel dispute in which Wilder had pushed for the firing of an employee he accused of threatening him.

The controversy began earlier this year when a former Virginia Commonwealth University employee, Jim Burke, sent a series of texts critical of Wilder’s ties to Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported. Wilder, a Democrat and the nation’s first elected Black governor, did not endorse Youngkin but criticized Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe and served on Youngkin’s transition team.

Wilder, 91, perceived Burke’s words as harassment and expressed dissatisfaction months later, when VCU had not fired Burke, the newspaper reported. At a May meeting of the university’s board, Wilder publicly accused a top university official of racism for not firing Burke.


The lawsuit filed Friday in federal court alleges that the school’s leadership has damaged the “political influence” and “historical achievement” of Wilder, who works at the university as a professor in the School of Government and Public Affairs named for him.

A “pattern of racism, discrimination, and retaliation at VCU” associated with Wilder’s tenure there “will become evident as the trial of this matter matures,” the lawsuit said.

Along with Burke, the lawsuit names as defendants VCU President Michael Rao, Provost Fotis Sotiropoulos and university counsel Jacob Belue.

A spokesperson for VCU declined comment to the newspaper and The Associated Press.

Neither Burke, who was the director of the Performance Management Group within the Wilder school, nor his attorney responded to requests from the newspaper or AP for comment.

Burke previously told the Times-Dispatch in an interview that he thought his messages were ranting but not threatening.

An initial text from Burke to Wilder appeared to equate Youngkin’s administration to Nazis, according to the lawsuit. Another text to a different university official said if Wilder “tries to make things worse, he will find himself in a bad place,” the lawsuit said.

Burke eventually resigned and retired from VCU, the lawsuit says. VCU confirmed to the newspaper Monday that Burke is no longer an employee there.

Wilder was informed that an outside law firm had been hired to investigate and the school was negotiating a settlement with Burke, according to the lawsuit, which seeks $5 million in compensation.

Wilder is representing himself in the case, according to court records. On Monday, a judge directed Wilder to refile a complete complaint by Friday, noting that multiple pages were missing.