The Montana Human Rights Office found reasonable grounds to believe the attorney general’s office engaged in unlawful discrimination during the hiring process following a Justice Department investigation from Montana.
The bureau’s investigator determined that the bureau did not hire attorney Andres Haladay because of his political beliefs, even though a hiring committee determined he was the most qualified for the position. This committee was eventually canceled by former Lt. Attorney General Kris Hansen, who has since passed away.
Haladay was applying for the position of chief of the agency’s legal services office in November 2021 and was asked to provide a cover letter, resume, and essay “regarding the government’s accountability to the people of Montana.”
According to the Human Rights Office investigator, the essay reflected Haladay’s personal political beliefs, “which could generally be interpreted as liberal or progressive.” Haladay is also a former member of the Helena City Commission and told the office 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 that his personal beliefs conflicted with those of the current DOJ administration, Haladay felt he had to respond honestly to the write prompt. Accordingly, Haladay’s essay discussed her views on (the) role of government in relation to issues such as abortion, climate change, and other topics of political discourse.
Haladay also worked for the State of Montana as Deputy Chief Legal Counsel for the Montana Department of Corrections. He has been a lawyer for over a decade.
The Montana Department of Justice did not respond to inquiries or interview requests about this story on Wednesday.
Three applicants were selected for interview by the committee and Haladay was ranked second. However, after the first nominee withdrew, he became the top nominee, but the third-ranked nominee, Pat Risken, was selected instead.
Haladay’s essay includes references to climate change, argues for the protection “of a woman’s right to seek and obtain a legal abortion from the provider of her choice,” as well as the conclusion that the Montana Constitution ” supports more than just a responsibility of equal protection. Rather, he argues for a concept of equality that recognizes that a level playing field can only be a level playing field when it takes into account the societal disparities that limit the opportunities and protections of thousands of Montanese.
The acting head of the Agency’s Office of Legal Services, who was on the hiring committee, described Haladay as “talented and stellar”, noting that he had a lot of litigation experience. She described Haladay to the interviewer as a “perfect fit”.
Lt. Attorney General Kris Hansen, at the time the department’s first deputy, failed to consult with the hiring committee before letting Haladay pass and offering the job to Risken.
Risken held the new position, according to court documents. However, it is not currently listed on the ministry’s website. According to the state database, Risken’s salary is approximately $96,262 per year. Attempts to reach him on Wednesday were unsuccessful.
A human resources specialist working for the Montana Department of Justice said that when she worked with Hansen she was “blunt and direct”, telling the HR specialist that “she did not want to explain her reasoning”.
Meanwhile, Risken, who was ranked lower, had a very different take on Montana in his essay:
“Wherever possible, government should be local with minimal federal intervention. The role of government is not paternal and should be limited. Individuals must recognize that government cannot and will not expand to all levels in order to relieve individuals of responsibility for themselves and their efforts…Government does not exist as a safety net and should not react to every wave, concern or popular notion of the societal body”.
Additionally, the committee raised concerns about Risken’s qualifications — concerns that were not raised in Haladay’s application.
“Issuened many subsets of issues … advocacy was not good,” according to documents produced by the hiring committee on Risken. “(A) arrogance could manifest itself if an employee is not performing well.”
Additionally, a committee member raised concerns about Risken’s management style and poor collaboration with others.
Hansen told the human resources specialist that she “simply reversed the panel’s decision.”
“Where the DOJ says Risken was a better candidate for office manager, the available evidence suggests otherwise,” the investigator said. “During the review of merit and qualifications, the hiring committee raised concerns. Not only did the recruiting panel rank Risken last among interviewed candidates, but the panel’s scores show several reasons why the DOJ concluded he was not a good fit for the job.
The DOJ told the Human Rights Office investigator that it could not know Haladay’s political views and therefore could not have discriminated.
“The evidence also suggests that this DOJ claim lacks credibility,” the investigator said. “As noted above, the essays submitted by Haladay and Risken display an easily discernible distinction between the political ideologies presented by the candidates. In addition to that, Haladay was an elected official serving on the Helena City Commission for eight years. As such, his political beliefs were public knowledge.