A former employee of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s office said in federal court Monday that she was fired in part for not attending church, which left her confused and depressed.
Courtney Canfield argues her firing amounts to religious discrimination.
Her lawsuit doesn’t name Kobach as a defendant, instead targeting Assistant Secretary of State Eric Rucker, who initially hired her.
Kobach’s office in the past had hosted prayer meetings after work, although attorneys say many employees chose not to attend them. Religious pamphlets were distributed weekly.
When she was fired from her administrative job in late 2013, after less than a year in the office, Canfield 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.
Canfield said she avoided the prayer meetings and didn’t read the religious pamphlets.
“I didn’t think it was appropriate for the workplace,” Canfield said of the religious pamphlets. “I always threw mine away.”
Canfield testified that her grandmother had indicated one of the reasons for her firing was because she didn’t go to church. She said the firing left her humiliated.
“[It] was very upsetting,” Canfield said in court. “I cried.”
Attorney Terelle Mock, representing the secretary of state’s office, said Courtney Canfield had been hired by Rucker as a favor to Margie Canfield. Their agreement was that if it 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.”
Office staff talked to Canfield about work issues, Mock said. They told her she needed to stay at her desk and not use her cell phone.
“They tried to counsel her on these things,” Mock said. “It didn’t work.” Mock said Rucker never told the grandmother that the firing was related to church attendance.
The trial continues Tuesday.
Stephen Koranda is Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio, a partner in the Kansas News Service.