MADISON, Wis. (AP) _ A former Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs administrator claimed Friday the agency forced him to retire after he supported a co-worker who believes he was fired because he was an "old white guy.''
Gary Wistrom filed a complaint with the state Equal Rights Division alleging the agency transferred him from his job at the Union Grove veterans home to an undefined position in Madison in October. He said the 200-mile round trip commute was too dangerous for him because of his medical problems and he had to retire.
The transfer came after he supplied an affidavit for former DVA administrator Randall Nitschke, who has filed his own complaint with the state alleging DVA Secretary Ken Black fired him because he wanted to purge the agency of “old white guys,'' according to Wistrom's complaint.
Black, who is African-American, has denied those claims. But Wistrom's complaint said he wrote in his affidavit for Nitschke that he had heard Black say too many old white men worked for the agency.
“The 'reassignment' was unreasonable, improper and not a legitimate WDVA personnel action, but was instead a ruse employed by Secretary Black … in retaliation for my having opposed the discrimination on the basis of age race and sex that was evident in the statement of Secretary Black,'' Wistrom said in his complaint.
Agency spokeswoman Sara Stinski said the agency was aware of the complaint but declined to comment further.
Wistrom's complaint is the latest blow for an agency struggling with a host of personnel problems.
Along with Nitschke's complaint, a former Wisconsin National Guard spokesman has filed a complaint with the state alleging he was unfairly passed over for Stinski's job and accusing Black of pushing old white men out of the agency.
And former agency Secretary John Scocos has filed a lawsuit against DVA, too. He argues the agency's board violated a federal law that protects military service members' jobs when it fired him last year just weeks after he returned from serving in Iraq.
Wistrom wrote in his complaint that he is a 61-year-old, white, retired U.S. Air Force colonel who suffers from multiple medical ailments, including hypertension, herniated discs and fibromyalgia. He said those conditions arose from his military service and make extended travel impossible for him.
Wistrom also said he attended a March meeting in which Black made unsolicited remarks that DVA employed “too many old white males.'' He said Black's comments were unfounded and he considered them an open threat to his job.
In September, an attorney representing Nitschke asked him for an affidavit regarding Black's comment. He informed his supervisors he would comply and submitted the affidavit.
A week and a half later, Wistrom was told he was being transferred from the Union Grove home to director of policy and program compliance for the Division of Veterans Homes at the agency's Madison headquarters. He said he was told the agency would not cover his relocation expenses, and he was never given a job description.
He said he drove to Madison on his first day in his new position, got sick and turned around for his home in Kenosha. He then realized he had to retire.
Pictured: Ken Black