A jury has ruled against a former employee of Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s office who said she was fired for not going to church.
Courtney Canfield, who worked for the office in 2013, alleged in the federal lawsuit that her situation was a case of “reverse religious discrimination.”
But defense attorneys made an effort to dispel that notion by having witnesses recount a work history they said showed Canfield was often away from her desk, absent and had problems with co-workers.
The jury’s verdict Thursday morning turned down the religious discrimination claim.
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Kobach was not named as a defendant in the lawsuit, but he said in a statement he was pleased with the jury’s decision.
“This result shows that our courts remain an effective institution for finding out the truth,” Kobach said in the statement. “Oftentimes frivolous claims like this are made in the hope that the defendant would settle and pay out money. That is not my view. We have to protect the taxpayers’ dollars and fight baseless lawsuits like this one.”
Canfield and her attorney would not speak to reporters as they left court.
Canfield worked as a filing specialist with the business division at the time of her termination.
In her lawsuit, Canfield alleged that in 2013 Eric Rucker, the assistant secretary of state, paid a visit to her grandmother to talk about the dismissal shortly after Canfield was asked to leave work for the day.
Rucker has longstanding ties to the family, including with Canfield’s grandmother, Margie Canfield, who works for the Kansas Republican Party.
Both Margie Canfield and Rucker testified to the court that they spoke at her home about the firing, though their accounts differed.
Margie Canfield testified that she was told her granddaughter’s job was terminated because Courtney was a diversion, mean and didn’t go to church, with Rucker placing a particular emphasis on church as a factor.
Rucker denied the church comment during the trial. He said during his testimony Tuesday he had told Margie earlier that if there was ever a time where “we have to part company,” he wanted the grandmother to tell her family member “the bad news” in an effort to avoid a scene.
The decision to fire Canfield was made by others in the office, though Rucker said he agreed.
Rucker said he only asked the grandmother about her family member’s church attendance based on an earlier comment from Margie that Courtney had been going to church with the elder Canfield before getting the job.
Canfield’s attorney, Gary Laughlin, described his client as hard working during closing arguments.
Canfield’s case against the office rested on her attorney’s claim that though she had absences, it did not affect her work product. Laughlin also argued her personnel file did not show she was a diversion.
Religious services were held in the secretary of state’s office during Canfield’s tenure, according to the lawsuit, though Canfield never attended “despite the repeated invitations.”
Terelle Mock, one of the defenses attorneys, told jurors the case was about “Courtney Canfield’s inability to keep a job” and said the idea her dismissal was based on religion was not true.