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Montana Human Rights Bureau says state DOJ discriminated in hiring process based on political beliefs

Attorney General Austin Knudsen
Posted at 7:22 PM, Sep 29, 2022

HELENA — A Montana Human Rights Bureau report says the Montana Department of Justice engaged in unlawful discrimination in hiring based upon the political beliefs of an applicant. DOJ says they will appeal the decision.

The complaint to the Human Rights Bureau comes from Andres Haladay, former Helena City Commissioner and deputy chief legal counsel for the Montana Department of Corrections. Haladay applied for the Agency Legal Services Bureau Bureau Chief position last year, interviewing in December.

The reports signed Sept. 21, says part of the Montana DOJ’s hiring process was to have applicants submit “an essay regarding the responsibility of the government to the people of Montana.” The investigator notes that Haladay believes his government essay reflected his personal political beliefs, “which could generally be construed as liberal or progressive.”

The Montana DOJ told the investigators the essays they require from applicants do not indicate the political positions of those applying, and they do not take political affiliation into consideration during the hiring process.

Andres Haladay in 2019 at Helena City Commission Meeting

In Haladay’s essay, he stated “…the guarantee of a clean and healthful environment imposes a responsibility, owed to all Montanans, that the Government be a good steward of the land…This includes land use and management policies, how environmental permitting is handled, actions to address climate change, and myriad other attendant environmental concerns, with the specific end goal of a clean and healthful environment.”

He also wrote, “the government has a responsibility to respect and protect a woman’s right to seek and obtain a lawful abortion from the provider of her choice.”

The hiring committee ranked Haladay as the second best choice for the position of three applicants. However, the top-ranked candidate withdrew their application, leaving Haladay as the committee’s choice. One committee thought Haladay would, “be a great asset to the bureau. Tremendous writer.”

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Former Lieutenant Attorney General Kristin Hansen instead chose the third-ranked candidate Pat Risken. Hansen was appointed by Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen. She left the department in May 2022 for health reasons and passed away on July 7.

In Risken’s essay, he wrote: “...government should to the greatest extent possible stay out of ‘the business of business’ to promote competition and marketplace determination.” Risken also wrote, “Governments should also strive to limit taxes through greater efficiencies. Local governments should budget conservatively, demand individual responsibility, tax accordingly and be accountable for self-sufficiency.”

The Human Rights Bureau notes in the report: “the essays submitted by Haladay and Risken displays an easily discernable distinction between the political ideologies presented.”

The hiring committee also expressed concerns about Risken being suited for the positions saying he “Glossed over a lot of the subsets of the questions…oral argument was not good…”

A Human Resources Specialist for the DOJ during the hiring process for the ALSB Bureau Chief position told the investigation Hansen “overruled” the hiring process. They further said Hansen was “direct and to the point” and did not “want to explain her reasoning” for selecting Risken.

Testimony also indicated Hansen did not consult with the selection committee before deciding to hire Risken.

Haladay was invited to apply for the position of Deputy Bureau Chief and a staff attorney position but declined.

The Montana DOJ told MTN they plan on appealing the decision and point to the fact they asked Haladay to apply for other positions.

"It’s a silly complaint. The Agency Legal Services Bureau needed an experienced manager and Pat Risken brought 18 years of managerial experience as a partner at a private law firm. We will appeal,” said a DOJ spokesperson. “Andres Haladay was offered the deputy bureau chief position and a staff attorney position but did not accept. After Risken’s retirement, Haladay did not apply for the bureau chief position even after the Department reached out and encouraged him to apply."