TOPEKA — Jurors in a wrongful termination lawsuit against the Kansas Secretary of State’s office will have to decide whether a former employee was fired for not going to church or because her work performance was inadequate.
Attorneys finished their arguments Wednesday in a lawsuit filed by Courtney Canfield, a former employee in the business services division of the Secretary of State’s office. They passed the case onto an eight-member jury that began deliberations late Wednesday afternoon and continued this morning.
Canfield, who was fired in November 2013, claims assistant secretary of state Eric Rucker told her grandmother, Margie Canfield, she had been fired for not going to church. Margie Canfield, a longtime friend of Rucker’s, delivered that news to her granddaughter. Canfield’s attorney, Gary Laughlin, told jurors he thought reasonable compensation for Canfield would top $116,000, including actual wage losses and emotional and mental damages.
Laughlin made the case that Canfield had performed adequately at her job despite health-related absences and said her supervisors did not use office disciplinary policies against her. He said her personnel file did not have any written disciplinary records and, by contrast, she was given a promotion and a 25-percent pay raise in June 2013. She was hired that January.
“If Courtney’s employment was really as bad as they testified it was, would they have promoted her?” Laughlin said.
Attorneys for the office said Canfield had a sporadic attendance record, broke office policies about cellphone use and created a distraction for other employees. Terelle Mock, one of the defense attorneys, characterized Canfield’s employment as a favor Rucker performed for Margie Canfield that did not work.
Rucker said Margie Canfield did not ask him to hire her granddaughter but that he thought it to be a favor to her.
Kathy Sachs, deputy assistant secretary of state for business services, disputed the notion Canfield received a promotion. She said Canfield was moved into her department a few months after her hiring because officials thought she could be successful there despite a troubled employment history.
Officials from the office said they did not and would not know whether Canfield was attending church.
They said the decision to fire Canfield came Nov. 15, 2013, after an “altercation” Canfield had with another employee. Canfield was sent home and informed by her grandmother that she had been terminated.