Former Pojoaque Valley School District Superintendent Melville Morgan filed a civil lawsuit against his onetime employer late last month, alleging the district and school board violated the state human rights laws while he was ill.
Morgan resigned in July 2019 after the Pojoaque Valley School Board moved to place him on paid administrative leave during a closed meeting.
In June, the state’s Human Rights Bureau issued Morgan a “right to sue” letter after he filed a discrimination charge with the agency.
According to the lawsuit, Morgan is seeking unspecified compensation for monetary and emotional damage caused by discrimination and breached contract, including attorney’s fees.
The complaint states Morgan received “glowing reviews” from the board during his tenure as superintendent, which began in 2015. In April 2019, he contracted a painful case of shingles. According to the lawsuit, the board then began treating him as “some slacker trying to get out of working.”
Morgan missed several weeks of school due to his illness, and his doctor retroactively requested those absences be excused after clearing him to return to work in late May. The lawsuit states then-board President Jon Paul Romero, who also is listed as a defendant in the case, wrote Morgan a letter stating he was in violation of district policies as he didn’t file the proper paperwork ahead of his absence.
Morgan was barred from returning to work until visiting one of four physicians approved by Romero and filling out additional paperwork, according to the complaint. The day after Romero sent the letter, Morgan took a serious fall at home, fracturing part of his femur bone and further delaying his return to work.
The complaint states Romero didn’t allow Morgan to attend a graduation ceremony while he was recovering, adding Romero directed a staff member to pick up a district-issued car from Morgan’s house while he was hospitalized.
When Morgan did return on July 1, 2019, he requested “reasonable accommodations” in the workplace for mobility issues stemming from his injuries and illness, according to the lawsuit.
The complaint states Romero “became very angry” and denied a doctor’s letters as proper requests for those accommodations.
Romero became board secretary after a “board reorganization” in May of 2020 and said in an interview Tuesday that he and the board were aware of the complaint. He added an attorney would be responding on behalf of the board.
Romero said it was odd to see the complaint. The superintendent’s leave, he said, was meant to be until “he returned with a doctor’s note,” and Morgan took it upon himself to resign.
“I was just saddened there was a complaint that was made, because I thought Mel Morgan was not only an excellent superintendent but I also considered him a friend,” Romero said.
Pojoaque Valley’s current superintendent, Sondra Adams, who was appointed on an interim basis during Morgan’s leave, did not respond to a phone call or email request for comment.
Morgan declined comment Tuesday evening, citing the pending litigation. His lawyer could not be reached for comment.