A former worker from Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s office said in court Tuesday that she was fired from her job for not going to church.
Courtney Canfield took the stand Tuesday morning in her lawsuit against the office and Eric Rucker, the assistant secretary of state.
In an earlier court filing, Canfield’s attorneys cited “reverse religious discrimination” after she was removed from her job as a filing specialist with the business division.
Kobach, who is running to become governor of Kansas, is not named as a defendant in Canfield’s lawsuit.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
Rucker testified under oath Tuesday afternoon and disputed that Canfield’s termination was tied to a lack of church involvement. Instead, the defense made an effort to show the jury that Canfield was routinely absent from work during her tenure and had trouble staying at her desk and staying off of her cell phone.
One supervisor told the court her attendance was sporadic and “a manager’s nightmare.”
Canfield worked for the secretary of state’s office from early 2013 to November of that year. In her lawsuit, Canfield’s legal team says that early in her tenure at the office she was invited to attend a religious service held in the secretary of state’s office and “despite the repeated invitations” never attended.
And then in November of 2013, Canfield was caught taking a personal phone call in a superior’s office, according to the testimony Tuesday.
That triggered a “ruckus” at the office, according to court documents, that led to Canfield being sent home for the day.
“I didn’t know I was fired,” Canfield said Tuesday.
Later that same day, according to the lawsuit, Rucker contacted Canfield’s grandmother, Margie. The elder Canfield works for the Kansas Republican Party, according to the group’s website.
Rucker has longstanding ties to the family, according to his testimony, and visited Margie Canfield at home to break the news about Courtney in person. At that point, Courtney had not been told her job had been terminated.
While both Rucker and Margie Canfield agree they did talk at her house that day, the details differ. The testimony from both indicated that their familiarity with one another played a part in Courtney first getting the job.
Rucker said 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.
Rucker said he didn’t want to get into specifics with the grandmother at first about why her granddaughter needed to be let go.
He later said her termination had come at the urging of others in the office, saying that Courtney Canfield was often absent from her desk, had poor attendance and got into trouble with co-workers.
Rucker told the jury an exchange about religion happened because he asked if Canfield was still going to church with her grandmother, something Margie had indicated to Rucker around the time Courtney first got the job.
But Margie Canfield remembers the exchange differently.
During her testimony, she said the reasons given for Courtney Canfield’s dismissal were that she was a diversion, mean and didn’t go to church. Margie Canfield said Rucker was particularly emphatic about her granddaughter not going to church during the exchange.
Courtney Canfield was a Methodist, according to an earlier court filing from the plaintiffs, though she did not regularly attend church services.
“She sort of went into a shell,” her grandmother told the court Tuesday about how losing the job impacted Courtney.
The trial is set to continue Wednesday morning.