Fired city of Fort Worth em­ployee sues, al­leges ra­cial dis­crim­i­na­tion

Star-Telegram - - News - BY LUKE RANKER lranker@star-tele­ Luke Ranker: 817-390-7747; @lrankerNEWS

A for­mer Fort Worth wa­ter di­rec­tor — on the job three months be­fore be­ing ter­mi­nated — claims in a fed­eral law­suit that his fir­ing was racially mo­ti­vated.

Ken­neth Mor­gan joined the wa­ter depart­ment in De­cem­ber 2017 and by March he had been let go. In those months, Mor­gan, who is black, faced in­sur­rec­tion from sub­or­di­nates and re­tal­i­a­tion for com­plain­ing about ap­par­ent dis­crim­i­na­tion, ac­cord­ing to a law­suit filed this week in the U.S. Dis­trict Court in Dal­las. The law­suit re­quests $1 mil­lion in dam­ages.

Ar­ling­ton at­tor­ney Frank Hill of Hill Gil­strap filed the law­suit on be­half of Mor­gan. He could not be reached for im­me­di­ate com­ment.

City of­fi­cials in March told the Star-Tele­gram the de­ci­sion was a per­son­nel mat­ter. They did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to re­quests for com­ment Thurs­day.

Mor­gan joined Fort Worth’s wa­ter depart­ment as di­rec­tor af­ter work­ing as a con­sul­tant in Cal­i­for­nia and Ne­vada and for util­ity de­part­ments in Charolotte, North Carolina, and in the St. Louis area.

Al­most im­me­di­ately, as­sis­tant di­rec­tors un­der Mor­gan sidestepped him as the depart­ment’s leader, ac­cord­ing to the law­suit. On some oc­ca­sions as­sis­tant di­rec­tors failed to no­tify Mor­gan of wa­ter treat­ment plant is­sues and up­dates with on­go­ing pro­grams. As­sis­tant di­rec­tor Kara Shuror, who had pre­vi­ously been in­terim di­rec­tor, con­tin­ued to con­duct meet­ings as a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the depart­ment, which Mor­gan ar­gues should have been his re­spon­si­bil­ity.

“He found it dif­fi­cult to fully as­sume con­trol as his pre­vi­ously em­pow­ered sub­or­di­nates in­ten­tion­ally added tur­moil to the tran­si­tion,” Hill wrote in the law­suit.

Mor­gan also be­came aware of re­ports from lower level em­ploy­ees of pos­si­ble dis­crim­i­na­tion. A “minute num­ber of” black em­ploy­ees held po­si­tions of au­thor­ity in the field op­er­a­tions divi­sion of the depart­ment, and they were reg­u­larly passed over for pro­mo­tion, ac­cord­ing to the law­suit.

As Mor­gan brought th­ese is­sues to As­sis­tant City Man­ager Jay Chapa, who over­sees the wa­ter depart­ment, he was ini­tially met with sup­port. That sup­port gave way to hos­til­ity, ac­cord­ing to the law­suit, as Mor­gan’s sub­or­di­nates be­gan re­port­ing di­rectly to Chapa in­stead of him.

Mor­gan was asked to meet with a ca­reer coach and on March 21 he was no­ti­fied he was be­ing ter­mi­nated.

Chapa told The Star-Tele­gram at the time of Mor­gan’s fir­ing that he spoke at length with Mor­gan be­fore he was ter­mi­nated.

“We were ex­cited about Mr. Mor­gan join­ing the or­ga­ni­za­tion, but over time we came to the re­al­iza­tion that we had an is­sue with over­all fit,” Chapa said at the time. “Where we want to move for­ward with the util­ity and how it was mov­ing was not in sync.”

New Fort Worth em­ploy­ees have a six-month pro­ba­tion­ary pe­riod.

Chris Harder, who has been with the depart­ment since 1999, was ap­pointed act­ing di­rec­tor af­ter Mor­gan’s de­par­ture. He be­came depart­ment di­rec­tor of­fi­cially in Au­gust.

Fort Worth’s wa­ter di­rec­tor can earn as much as $201,557, ac­cord­ing to bud­get in­for­ma­tion. Mor­gan was hired at a $175,000 an­nual salary, ac­cord­ing to The Star-Tele­gram’s ar­chive.

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