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Ex-Veterans Affairs officials file lawsuit

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Kevin Murphy
July 22, 2011
— An Elkhorn man and two other former employees of the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs filed suit Wednesday against the former department secretary, who said there were "too many older white males" working for the agency, according to the suit.

Randall Nitschke of Elkhorn was division administrator for the department's veterans homes before then-Secretary Kenneth Black demoted and later fired Nitschke, according to the three lawsuits filed in U.S. District Court.


Nitschke was commandant of the Union Grove veterans home when former Secretary John Scocos in November 2009 promoted Nitschke to division administrator. On Nov. 24, 2009, the department fired Scocos and replaced him with Black, who is an African American.


Three days later, Black demoted Nitschke back to the commandant position and hired a younger, non-Caucasian woman to replace him as division administrator.


In March 2010, Nitschke, 56, attended a meeting where Black told several department heads that the problem with the department was that it employed "too many older white males," according to the lawsuits.


Black fired Nitschke in June 2010, according to the suits.


Gary Wistrom of Kenosha was Nitschke's assistant at Union Grove and was at the March 2010 meeting when Black made the "white males" statement. Wistrom later signed an affidavit for Nitschke, who had a complaint pending with the state's Equal Rights Division, attesting to Black's remark, according to the lawsuits.


Wistrom, 60, was reassigned from the Union Grove facility to one near Madison. Making the 216-mile round trip was difficult for Wistrom, who is 30 percent disabled. His health failed, he couldn't make the trip daily, and he resigned, according to the lawsuits.


Black also passed over hiring Timothy Donovan as the department's communications officer. Donovan recently had retired as lieutenant colonel in the Wisconsin National Guard, where he had served as communications director, according to the lawsuits.


Donovan, 59, achieved the only perfect score on the employment exam and had served as communications director for the Baghdad International Zone when deployed there in 2009-10, according to the lawsuits.


Instead, Black hired a 36-year-old woman who scored 16th on the exam and had no prior military service or experience with veterans affairs, according to the lawsuit.


Black resigned in March.


Efforts to contact him Thursday for comment were unsuccessful.


Attorney Peter Fox, who represents Nitschke and Wistrom, said the state Department of Veterans Affairs isn't a defendant in the Nitschke, Wistrom or Donovan suits but could be added later.


"We have three older white males who in different ways were mistreated by the WDVA under Black's leadership, and the comment made to (Nitschke and Wistrom) directly reflected what ultimately happened to them," Fox said Thursday.


James Stewart, an attorney representing the department in the equal rights cases, had no comment on discrimination allegations other than to say they were being contested.


Nitschke, Wistrom and Donovan each have received determinations of probable cause of discrimination in their pending complaints before the state's Equal Rights Division.



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