Archive for Thursday, August 20, 2015

Kansas secretary of state clerk sues over termination

August 20, 2015

— A former state employee has filed a federal civil lawsuit claiming she was fired from her clerk job at the Kansas secretary of state's office after she declined to attend prayer services held in the office.

Courtney Canfield, who was hired in January 2013 as an accounts clerk, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Topeka. She said that before Assistant Secretary of State Eric Rucker ousted her in November 2013, he "repeatedly and emphatically indicated a basis for her termination as the fact that, 'She just doesn't go to church.'"

Rucker was served Aug. 7 with the lawsuit, which names the office of the secretary of state and Rucker as defendants, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported.

Secretary of State Kris Kobach told The Wichita Eagle in an email that the lawsuit is baseless and that Canfield was fired for poor job performance.

"The suggestion that Mr. Rucker, or anyone else at the Office of the Secretary of State, monitored employees' church attendance is ridiculous," Kobach said in the email.

Jennifer Rapp, spokeswoman for the Attorney General Derek Schmidt's office, said the secretary of state's office requested legal representation in the case. The attorney general's office retained private counsel to handle the legal matter, Rapp said.

Canfield is a Methodist but didn't regularly attend church services or "otherwise practice any particular religious beliefs in any way," according to the lawsuit. Canfield was promoted in June 2013 to a full-time position as a filing specialist in the business division of the secretary of state's office.

The lawsuit said shortly after she was hired, Canfield was invited by one of Kobach's administrative assistants to attend a religious service in the secretary of state's office. The service was to be officiated by David DePew, pastor at the Kansas State Capitol, the lawsuit said.

Canfield declined.

"Participation in these religious services was by invitation only," the complaint says. "These invitations were distributed during normal business hours and included a 'prayer guide' to be utilized at that week's service."

The lawsuit said Canfield didn't attend the services "despite the repeated invitations."

The lawsuit also said that in November 2013, one of Canfield's colleagues complained about Canfield using a deputy secretary's office telephone to make a personal call. Canfield said she took the call in that office to discuss a medical matter in private.

Court documents say that same day, Rucker left a telephone message for Canfield's grandmother, Margie Canfield, a long-time administrator with the Kansas Republican Party. Her service since 1999 was interrupted in 2007 when dismissed by Kobach, then chairman of the Kansas GOP. She was rehired in 2010.

In Rucker's telephone message, he asked to speak with Margie Canfield and arrived at her Topeka home at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 15, 2013. He told Margie Canfield "she needed (to) terminate plaintiff despite the fact that she had no direct authority over her employment," the lawsuit claims.

Three days later, Rucker told Courtney Canfield she had been terminated, according to the lawsuit.

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