TOPEKA — Officials in the Kansas Secretary of State’s office said in court proceedings Tuesday a former employee was fired because of poor work performance, but her grandmother claimed she was told emphatically that her granddaughter was being fired for not going to church.
Courtney Canfield, who worked in the Secretary of State’s office in 2013, and her grandmother, Margie Canfield, took the witness stand Tuesday morning in Canfield’s lawsuit alleging wrongful termination. They were followed by employees of the Kansas Secretary of State’s office. Courtney Canfield claims Assistant Secretary of State Eric Rucker was responsible for her firing and that it was based on her church attendance.
Margie Canfield, an administrative assistant for the Kansas Republican Party and longtime acquaintance of Rucker’s, said Rucker came to her home Nov. 15, 2013, and told her to fire her granddaughter from her position in the secretary of state’s office, though she neither worked there nor hired her granddaughter. Courtney Canfield had been sent home from work earlier that day. Margie Canfield said Rucker justified his decision to fire her granddaughter by saying she was a distraction, was unkind to other employees and did not attend church.
“He put his fist on the table like he was very emphatic about it, and he said, ‘And she doesn’t go to church, Margie. She doesn’t go to church,’ ” Margie Canfield said.
Canfield said Rucker brought up church like it was the main reason for Courtney Canfield’s termination.
Courtney Canfield’s attorney, Gary Laughlin, said she never had been disciplined through procedures in the office’s employee handbook.
Rucker disputed the notion that church played a role in Canfield’s firing. He said he did not know when he fired Canfield whether she was attending church services or a small Bible study held after work hours in Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s office. Talk of Canfield’s church attendance came after he and Margie Canfield discussed her firing, Rucker said. He said he hoped to talk about Canfield’s future after being terminated and that Margie Canfield said her granddaughter’s life was a mess. Rucker said he asked if Courtney Canfield still was attending church with her grandmother, but she was not.
“That is the only thing I ever said about church,” Rucker said.
Rucker said he decided to fire Courtney Canfield on the recommendation of deputy assistant secretary of state Kathy Sachs and after she was sent home from work Nov. 15 because of an “altercation” with another employee. Sachs more directly oversaw Canfield. After he decided to fire Canfield, Rucker said he went to Margie Canfield’s house and asked her to deliver the news to her granddaughter, who said she never officially was told by any employee of the secretary of state’s office that she had been fired.
Rucker said he decided to ask Margie Canfield to deliver the news to avoid creating a scene in the office and to break the news more gently. He claimed he had asked Canfield before her granddaughter was hired in January 2013 to be the one to break the news if the office ever had to fire Courtney Canfield. Rucker said she previously had worked for him in the Kansas Attorney General’s office and her work then was not satisfactory.
Margie Canfield said Rucker had told her to fire her granddaughter, and she said she had not hired her and did not have the authority to fire her. Canfield said she did not have a previous agreement with Rucker that she would fire her granddaughter if the job did not work out.
Rucker and other officials in the Kansas Secretary of State’s office repeatedly pointed to Canfield’s attendance record as a main factor behind her firing. They said she was also often out of her desk at the office, used her cellphone during work hours and did not get along with co-workers.
Jackie Carlson, senior manager of business services, said Canfield missed work frequently and called it a manager’s nightmare. Based on Canfield’s timesheets, Carlson said she had been absent for a combined 108 hours between her start in the business services branch in June 2013 and her termination that November, including 41 hours of absence in October.
Canfield stressed that all of her absences were approved on her timesheets, but Carlson, who approved those timesheets, said that means they were accurately compiled.
She said approval of the time sheets did not mean managers approved of the time Canfield was taking off.
Defense attorneys had more witnesses to call when the trial resumed this morning.
David Cooper, an attorney for the defendants, said it was possible attorneys could wrap up their arguments and hand the case over to the jury today.
Jurors then would deliberate.