Parson files whistleblower suit

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Former superintendent says he was fired for noting board member’s felony conviction

By Mercy Lopez

An ex-superintendent of West Las Vegas Schools has filed a lawsuit against his former employer, alleging he was retaliated against.

Gene Parson, who served as the district’s head for roughly four years, alleges the former board chairman David Romero and the board didn’t renew his contract after Parson notified the district’s attorney that an ineligible member was serving on the board. Parson’s lawsuit was filed under the state Whistleblower Protection Act. He is seeking lost wages, lost benefits, damages, attorney’s fees and unspecified compensation for “emotional distress.”

A jury trial is scheduled to start in district court with District Judge Abigail Aragon on May 21, 2018.

Parson’s lawsuit states that former board member Anthony “Leroy” Benavidez was ineligible to serve on the board due to a prior 2002 felony drug conviction, an issue Parson raised in November 2015 with the district’s attorneys. Under state law, a felon is not eligible to hold public office unless the individual has received a pardon or his or her political rights are fully restored.

After he joined the board in March 2015, Benavidez’s relationship with Parson was strained at best, with Benavidez voting against Parson’s 1 percent raise in November 2015. In April 2016, the board was split on the vote to renew Parson’s contract. Board member Christine Ludi and Marvin Martinez supported Parson, while Romero and board member Patrick Marquez wanted to open up the position and launch a search for a new superintendent.

The board remained deadlocked on a contract extension for Parson after Benavidez had resigned from his position in April 2016. Benavidez’s resignation from the board came months after Parson’s initial contact with the district’s attorney’s to inform them that Benavidez was ineligible to serve on the board due to his felony drug conviction.

On Thursday morning Romero said that Parson was not terminated by the board, but that a contract renewal for him was not possible due to a tied vote by the board.

At the time of his resignation Benavidez said, “My lack of support for Mr. Parson is no secret. I do not believe he has the best interest of the district at heart. I believe that he has made suspicious decisions that call into question his integrity and honesty. The fact that members Ludi and Martinez support Mr. Parson says a lot about their character and it speaks to their lack of support for students, teachers and staff. Serving on this board is an honor, and they have turned it into an opportunity to benefit personally. That in my opinion is criminal.”

In July 2016, Parson entered retirement after the board let his previous contract expire — ending a 29-year tenure at the district. He had served as West’s superintendent since the fall of 2012.

Attempts to reach Parson and Benavidez for comment were unsuccessful. Current Superintendent Christopher Gutierrez declined to comment on the lawsuit.

In court documents, Parson’s attorneys Christopher Machin and Donald Gilpin of the Albuquerque-based Gilpin Law Firm allege that Romero allowed Benavidez to harass and to evaluate Parson despite knowing that Benavidez was ineligible to serve on the board.

The suit states that Benavidez gave Parson an unsatisfactory evaluation.

“Many of the questions the felon board member claimed to not understand,” Parson’s court documents state. “So he simply marked the category unsatisfactory.”

Parson said that his evaluation done by the board including Benavidez was at a 52 percent satisfactory rating compared to prior evaluations of 82 percent satisfactory.

“Plaintiff’s (Parson’s) contract was not renewed due to defendants (WLV) retaliatory conduct in reaction to the Plaintiff’s (Parson’s) whistle blowing activities,” the former West superintendent’s lawsuit states.