RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - The former headmaster of a private school founded by romance writer Nicholas Sparks is suing the novelist and other school leaders, saying he was forced out after trying to recruit black students and faculty and supporting a bullied group of gay students.

Saul Hillel Benjamin says in a federal lawsuit filed Thursday that Sparks made racially and religiously dismissive remarks while Benjamin headed the K-12 school in New Bern, Sparks' hometown of 30,000 people about 100 miles east of Raleigh.

Benjamin seeks punitive damages against Sparks, three other members of the board of The Epiphany School of Global Studies and the Nicholas Sparks Foundation.

Sparks' defense attorney denies the allegations. Another says he's known the writer for almost 20 years and calls the descriptions ludicrous and offensive.