GEORGETOWN, Texas (KXAN) – More than a year after KXAN first reported on complaints about county commissioners asking constitutionally-protected questions of job applicants, new video evidence makes it clear that at least one elected county leader asked about God and political views during interviews in March of 2013 with candidates for county constable.
“That’s what I’ve said before and I’ll say it again, I asked a question on their view on gay marriage and their view on abortion to all the applicants for Precinct 3 constable except for Kevin Stofle during the interviews,” Precinct 1 Commissioner Lisa Birkman said during a deposition hearing in August. The videotaped hearing was called after a former candidate for the job filed a lawsuit that June alleging his constitutional rights were violated. The Texas Civil Rights Project released the video Tuesday morning.
Stofle would eventually get the constable job and he’s running in the November election to keep it after winning the Republican primary in March. In the same deposition, County Judge Dan Gattis who’s up for re-election this year admitted Stofle had shared his personal world views in an earlier interview for another county job.
Federal law prohibits employers – public or private – from using religious views in the hiring process. It’s treated the same as race, gender or age. The Texas Bill of Rights is also clear saying “no religious test should be required as a qualification to any office.”
Last spring, only Precinct 3 Commissioner Valerie Covey would talk to KXAN on camera explaining the commissioners’ reasoning at the time.
“This is a process that is different than a normal employment interview, because it is an elected position,” she said in May.
While Covey asked no questions of Lloyd, her personal notes of the March interview show she wrote Lloyd’s views on abortion and gay rights were ‘not definitive.’ At the deposition hearing in August, she clarified that note, saying “He (Lloyd) had a hard time deciding what he was about and what he wanted to say in his conversation with us.”
Lloyd says his lawsuit could have a big impact on anyone applying for a public service job. He has since been joined by plaintiffs Robert Goodrich and Fred Churchill who allege similar interview experiences.
“I never thought I would have to hate a gay person to get an appointment to get a job. I never thought that would be an issue. But that’s what this has turned out to be,” Lloyd told reporters at a news conference where the Birkman video was released.
The Texas Civil Right Project whose attorneys are representing Lloyd and the others say the federal court trial for Lloyd’s lawsuit is expected to get underway in January.
“Why would they continue to fight this suit for the right to continue to ask questions that are about religion, abortion and who somebody voted for?” asked attorney Wayne Krause Yang at the news conference. “I know two months ago Williamson County had already spent $140,000 to fight for the right to ask discriminatory, invasive questions. Not only are they trampling on citizens’ constitutional rights, they’re trampling on their taxpayers too.”
Yang also referred to another person, April Nowling, who said she too recently encountered an odd-sounding question on a job application for a position with the County Clerk’s office. Nowling told Commissioner’s Court on Tuesday she was asked to respond who her favorite president was and why.
“That’s not a question that should have ever been asked. And I just want that removed so everyone has a fair chance,” she said. “From everything I’ve seen around here now, I doubt that’ll happen in the near future…It’s wrong and it shouldn’t be on there.”
Judge Gattis would only say that “this case being discussed today (the Robert Lloyd lawsuit) is an ongoing case and the court will not be making any comments about it.”