Jury Clears Kobach’s Office of Religious Bias Claim

TOPEKA Kan. (CN) – After a short deliberation, a federal jury on Thursday found in favor of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s office in a religious discrimination lawsuit filed by a former employee.

Courtney Canfield, a former administrative assistant for Kobach’s office, testified earlier this week that she was fired because she didn’t go to church and participate in after-hours Bible studies.

Assistant Secretary of State Eric Rucker said the real reasons for her termination were absenteeism, actively distracting her co-workers and spending too much time making personal calls. Rucker said he fired Canfield after he received a report from Canfield’s supervisor about her involvement in an argument with a coworker.

Canfield was notified of her termination by her grandmother Margie Canfield, a longtime employee of the Kansas Republican Party and friend of Rucker. Rucker, who said he hired Courtney as a favor to Margie, asked Margie to tell her granddaughter in order to avoid causing a scene at work. In her testimony on Tuesday, Margie said Rucker listed Courtney’s lack of church attendance as one of the reasons for her termination.

Rucker had hired Courtney in a previous position before working for the Secretary of State’s office and said he had problems with her work performance then as well.

Gary Laughlin, Canfield’s attorney, noted in closing arguments that Canfield was never written up before being fired, and had received a promotion and 25 percent pay increase during the 11 months she was employed there.

“If Courtney’s employment was really as bad as they testified it was, would they have promoted her?” Laughlin said.

The eight-person jury didn’t find Laughlin’s arguments compelling and found in favor of the secretary of state’s office Thursday morning.

The four-day trial offered a unique insight into Kobach’s operations. Known for his voter-fraud policies, anti-immigration stances and role on President Donald Trump’s election integrity commission, Kobach also promotes himself as a faithful Christian.

In addition to holding weekly Bible studies, Kobach allowed visitors to distribute religious pamphlets to office employees. Karen Dilliehunt, who has worked for the office for more than 30 years, testified that Kobach was the first secretary of state to approve religious meetings and pamphlets. She also said that at no time did she ever feel pressured to get involved with any religious material.

The office discontinued the Bible study meetings in 2016, after outside pressure from civil liberties groups.

Canfield did not name Kobach as a defendant in her lawsuit.

 

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