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.