Kobach’s Office Cleared of Firing Kansas Worker Over Religion

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By Jay-Anne B. Casuga

The office of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach didn’t discriminate against a worker who alleged she was fired because she didn’t attend church, a federal jury decided Aug. 24 ( Canfield v. Kansas Sec’y of State , D. Kan., No. 15-04918, jury verdict 8/24/17 ).

Kobach, a conservative Christian, occasionally held religious gatherings in his office after the close of business, Courtney Canfield said in a 2015 lawsuit. Canfield didn’t attend any of the devotional meetings.

Three days before her firing, she said, Assistant Secretary of State Eric Rucker visited Canfield’s grandmother and told her that Canfield was being fired partly “for not going to church.” Rucker and Canfield’s grandmother are acquaintances, Canfield said. The secretary of state’s office countered that Canfield wasn’t fired because of religion but because of alleged disruptive behavior, poor attendance, and excessive personal phone calls.

A jury sided with the government and found no religious discrimination against Canfield under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act or Kansas law.

“This result shows that our courts remain an effective institution for finding out the truth,” Kobach said in statement. “Oftentimes frivolous claims like this are made in the hope that the defendant would settle and pay out money.”

Charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging discriminatory discharge based on religion have dipped slightly in the past few years, according to government enforcement statistics. The agency received 1,815 such charges in fiscal 2010. That number dipped to a low of 1,714 in fiscal 2015 before moving back up to 1,794 in fiscal 2016. Employees like Canfield must file bias charges with the EEOC before bringing a private Title VII lawsuit.

Canfield’s attorney, Gary E. Laughlin of Hamilton Laughlin Barker Johnson & Jones in Topeka, Kan., didn’t immediately respond to Bloomberg BNA’s Aug. 25 request for comment.

David R. Cooper, Seth A. Lowry, and Terelle A. Mock of Fisher, Patterson, Sayler & Smith in Topeka represented the secretary of state’s office.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jay-Anne B. Casuga in Washington at jcasuga@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bna.com

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