A jury in Topeka said Thursday that Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s office did not discriminate when firing an employee. Courtney Canfield argued in the lawsuit that she was fired in part for not attending church, and she said that amounted to religious discrimination.
After the unanimous verdict from the eight-person jury, Kobach said he was “very pleased.”
“This result shows that our courts remain an effective institution for finding out the truth,” Kobach said in a statement. “Oftentimes frivolous claims like this are made in the hope that the defendant would settle and pay out money.”
The lawsuit didn’t name Kobach as a defendant but instead targeted Assistant Secretary of State Eric Rucker, who initially hired Canfield.
Attorneys for Kobach’s office argued during the trial that Canfield was fired for poor job performance. They said she was frequently absent and had issues staying at her desk and not using her phone.
Canfield and her attorney wouldn’t comment as they left the federal courtroom.
During the trial, Canfield testified that she didn’t attend after-work Bible study meetings and didn’t read religious pamphlets handed out in the office.
“I didn’t think it was appropriate for the workplace,” Canfield said of the religious pamphlets. “I always threw mine away.”
The attorney representing Canfield, Gary Laughlin, argued during the trial that she had never been formally disciplined during her time working in the office. He said she was given a full-time job after several months of working part time.
"I thought that I did a good job," Canfield said.
Canfield said the firing left her humiliated, depressed and confused.
When Canfield was fired from her administrative job in late 2013, after less than a year in the office, she didn’t learn it from Rucker. Instead, she got the message from her grandmother, Margie Canfield, a longtime employee of the Kansas Republican Party who knew Rucker.
Margie Canfield said Rucker indicated one of the reasons for the firing was because Courtney Canfield didn’t go to church.
Rucker said during the trial that he never told the grandmother that the firing was related to church attendance.
Attorney Terelle Mock, representing the secretary of state’s office, said Monday at the trial that Courtney Canfield had been hired by Rucker as a favor to Margie Canfield. Their agreement was that if the younger woman didn’t measure up, the elder Canfield would have to tell her granddaughter that she was being let go.
“This case is about Ms. Canfield’s inability to keep a job,” Mock said during an opening statement. “This case is not about religion.”
Stephen Koranda is Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio, a partner in the Kansas News Service.