TOPEKA, Kan. (CN) – A Kansas woman testified in federal court Tuesday that she believes she was fired from Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s office because she did not go to church.
Courtney Canfield sued the secretary of state’s office and Assistant Secretary of State Eric Rucker, the man who hired her. Kobach is not named in the lawsuit.
On Tuesday, Canfield – who worked less than a year as an administrative assistant in the office in 2013 – testified she did not participate in the office’s after-hours Bible study group and objected to religious materials that were often passed around.
“I didn’t think it was appropriate for the workplace,” Canfield said.
Instead of being notified of her firing by her supervisor, Canfield received the news from her grandmother Margie Canfield, a Kansas Republican Party employee and longtime acquaintance of Rucker.
According to Margie, Rucker met with her and told her to fire her granddaughter because she missed work, acted mean to co-workers and did not go to church.
“He put his fist on the table like he was very emphatic about it and said, ‘And she doesn’t go to church, Margie,’” Margie said in her testimony. “She doesn’t go to church.”
Margie added she felt uncomfortable with Rucker’s request since she did not possess the authority to fire Courtney or any other employee of the secretary of state’s office. On cross-examination, defense attorney David Cooper asked if Margie remembered the conversation correctly, noting that the two also discussed religion during their interaction.
“Yes, he absolutely did say that,” Margie said. “He said that about four times.”
Terelle Mock, attorney for the secretary of state’s office, said the decision to fire Courtney was solely due to performance issues. Mock said Rucker hired Courtney as a favor to Margie and that when he did so, it was with the understanding that Margie would tell Courtney if it didn’t work out.
“This case is about (Courtney) Canfield’s inability to keep a job,” Mock said in her opening statement. “This case is not about religion.”
Mock said the Bible study meetings were considered voluntary. Kobach’s office regularly held after-hours religious meetings, but stopped the practice in 2016.
As a favor to Margie, who held considerable influence in the Kansas Republican Party, Rucker hired Courtney at a previous position and was reluctant to hire her again.
“She had an absenteeism problem and conflicts with other workers from time to time,” Rucker said.
Rucker testified that he did not fire her from her previous job because he did not want to anger Margie. Rucker said he “didn’t think it was worth the fight.”
U.S. Magistrate Judge Gary Sebelius, husband of former U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, is presiding over the trial, which is expected to conclude later this week.
Courtney Canfield is represented by Gary Laughlin of Hamilton, Laughlin, Barker, Johnson and Jones. Cooper and Mock of Fisher, Patterson, Sayler and Smith represent the defendants.