Woman accuses library of firing her for wearing cross

By The Associated Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A woman who claims she was fired from a public library for wearing a necklace with a cross on it sued the western Kentucky library late last week, saying her free-speech rights were violated.

Kimberly Draper was fired from the Logan County Public Library in April because she refused to remove the necklace, according to a lawsuit filed Feb. 1 in U.S. District Court in Bowling Green.

Draper is being represented in the suit by the American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative organization founded by Pat Robertson that is "committed to the defense of Judeo-Christian values," according to its Web site.

But her former supervisor, Logan County Library Director Linda Kompanik, said Draper was let go for other reasons. In a telephone interview with the Associated Press, she called the allegations "untrue" that Draper was fired solely because she refused to take off the cross.

"It was something else," said Kompanik. She said out of respect for Draper, she didn't want to elaborate.

"Unfortunately, she can say whatever she wants, and I can't do that," Kompanik said.

Draper's suit names as defendants the library, Kompanik, Assistant Director Sheryl Appling and the library's board of trustees.

The suit could be a first, said Larra Clark, a spokeswoman for the American Library Association.

"It's the first time we've heard of such a case, and we've been around for 125 years," Clark said. Clark said the library association doesn't get involved with lawsuits and wouldn't have an opinion on Draper's.

In the lawsuit, Draper argued that her First Amendment rights were violated. The library policy has a policy that prohibits religious "decoration," the suit said.

The suit doesn't specify a dollar amount, but asks for compensatory and punitive damages "for discriminatory and unconstitutional actions taken against" Draper.

Draper was hired as a librarian in August of 1998, and on the day of her orientation, she was told she was "free to wear religious jewelry," the suit said.

Forty-five days later, she was given a copy of the dress-code policy, which banned "religious, political or potentially offensive decoration."

In April 2001, Appling, the assistant director, told Draper twice in a week to take off her necklace. Draper refused both times, the suit said.

On April 16, Draper met with Kompanik, and at the end of the meeting, Kompanik told her she had to fire her, the suit said.

Draper could not be reached for comment.

But Frank Manion, a Louisville-based attorney for the ACLJ, said the library's policy is too broad.

"Who's to decide what's potentially offensive," Manion said. "My definition may be different from yours." He said that the policy was simply unconstitutional.

With regard to the policy, Kompanik said the library prohibits its workers from wearing religious symbols in order to honor the religious diversity of the patrons.

"If someone wants to check out a book, and one of us shows that we have a different religious point of view than them, it could make (the patron) uncomfortable," Kompanik said. She said the policy has been in place since she became director seven years ago.