Montana Department of Justice settles discrimination complaint

DOJ to pay $37K for not hiring an attorney because of political beliefs

By: - November 22, 2022 3:53 pm

Visitors look on one of the balconies around the rotunda of the Montana Capitol on June 20, 2022 (Photo by Darrell Ehrlick of the Daily Montanan).

The Montana Department of Justice has settled a discrimination complaint against an attorney who the Montana Human Rights Bureau determined had been unfairly passed over for a promotion because of political views he expressed in an essay that was required as part of the job application.

The Montana Department of Justice agreed to several different terms to settle the complaint or face a possible lawsuit. As part of the settlement, the DOJ agreed to pay $37,000 to Andres Haladay, $20,000 plus $17,000 for emotional distress. The conciliation agreement also said that while the Department of Justice, led by Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen, a Republican, agreed to the settlement, it admits no wrongdoing in the case.

Haladay told the Daily Montanan that he’s happy with the settlement, and pleased that the essay requirement has been removed from every DOJ job posting.

The Montana Department of Justice did not respond to requests for comment.

Haladay had filed a complaint with Montana’s Human Rights Bureau, claiming he was discriminated against as he applied for a high-ranking job within the Department of Justice. An investigator found that a personnel committee had recommended Haladay as the leading candidate, but Deputy Attorney General Kris Hansen, who has since died, overruled the committee, likely because Haladay’s political views didn’t mesh with the administration’s.

In addition to the settlement, the Montana Department of Justice agreed to comply with the state’s anti-discriminatory process outlined in law. The parties agreed that the Human Resources Department within the agency will review three videos on the Human Rights Bureau’s You Tube Channel: What is the Human Rights Bureau; Discrimination 101: The Basics; and Montana’s Governmental Code of Fair Practices.

The agreement was signed by Will Selph, the Montana Department of Justice’s Chief of Staff.

An essay and experience

Haladay was applying for the position of Agency Legal Services Bureau Chief in November 2021 and was asked to provide a cover letter, resume and an essay “regarding the responsibility of the government to the people of Montana.”

According to the Human Rights Bureau investigator, the essay reflected Haladay’s personal political beliefs, “which could generally be construed as liberal or progressive.” Haladay is also a former member of the Helena City Commission and told the bureau that his political beliefs were likely known in the community.

According to the written report obtained by the Daily Montanan, the investigator noted, “Although Haladay was aware his personal beliefs conflicted with those of the current DOJ administration, Haladay felt he should answer the essay prompt honestly. As a result, Haladay’s essay discussed his opinion on (the) role of government as relates to issues such as abortion, climate change and other topics of political discourse.”

Haladay has also worked for the State of Montana as the deputy chief legal counsel for the Montana Department of Corrections. He has been an attorney for more than a decade.

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Darrell Ehrlick
Darrell Ehrlick

Darrell Ehrlick is the editor-in-chief of the Daily Montanan, after leading his native state’s largest paper, The Billings Gazette. He is an award-winning journalist, author, historian and teacher, whose career has taken him to North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Utah, and Wyoming. With Darrell at the helm, the Gazette staff took Montana’s top newspaper award six times in seven years. Darrell's books include writing the historical chapters of “Billings Memories” Volumes I-III, and “It Happened in Minnesota.” He has taught journalism at Winona State University and Montana State University-Billings, and has served on the student publications board of the University of Wyoming.