CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. (WTRF) – An Army veteran has filed a discrimination claim against a West Virginia-based school with roots in the military, reports The West Virginia Record.
Lieutenant Colonel Mark Riccardi, is a 21 year U.S. Army veteran, having served as an intelligence officer and in combat in Afghanistan in 2003, has a doctorate in education from Colorado State University, a master’s in criminal justice and a master’s in education. This decorated veteran also has a master’s in strategic studies from the U.S. Army War College.
Riccardi has filed his complaint in the Jefferson Circuit Court against West Virginia-based American Public University System Inc. doing business as American Military University and American Public Education Inc. The defendants, the complaint states, is based in Charles Town.
Riccardi, a resident in Colorado, was hired by the defendants in 2012 and served as dean of the School of Security and Global Studies. His duties required him to traveled to Charles Town. He was compensated approximately $154,000 a year plus benefits, according to the suit.
In direct correlation of his combat experience, he states he was diagnosed with anxiety and other physical disabilities such as numbness in his arms and neck. He has been medically deemed disabled, according to the Veteran’s Administration and the West Virginia Human Rights Act.
In 2019, Riccardi claims he was told by a co-worker that the serving Provost, Vernon Smith, and was bragging that he was replacing employees with military service with “traditional academics” that didn’t have a military background. He claims in the suit that he witnessed employees in administrative positions being replaced either by discharge or demotion.
Riccardi’s court document stated that several of his colleagues with prior military service confided in him about the unfair treatment by administrators.
On August 1, 2019, Riccardi says he complained about this discrimination against former military employees to President and CEO Wallace Boston. He alleges that Smith was asking him to violate ethical employment standards by asking him to harshly scrutinize and write a disciplinary report about a faculty member who had military service.
These claims continued through the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021, and no action was made to stop it.
On February 23, 2022, Provost Smith suspended Riccardi, citing a “change in leadership” was required for the school. Riccardi claims he was one of the few employees left with a military background, stating about a dozen veterans already had been removed from their positions.
Riccardi was fired.
He claims he was fired to his disability, his age, his military service and in retaliation against the defendants’ alleged discriminatory practices.
The defendants are claimed to have violated the WVHRA by discriminating against Riccardi because of his age and disability. Other state laws including the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Act of 1994 and discrimination based on his veteran status were also in play.
A spokesman for the West Virginia-based American Public University System Inc. said they don’t comment on pending litigation.
Riccardi notes in the suit that he has suffered lost wages, emotional distress, humiliation, aggravation, embarrassment, anxiety, annoyance, inconvenience and mental anguish, and seeks compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorney fees, court costs, pre- and post-judgment interests and other relief.
He is represented by Kristina Thomas Whiteaker of the Grubb Law Group in Charleston and by John Einreinhofer of the Law Offices of John Einreinhofer in Charleston.
Jefferson Circuit Court case number 22-C-96