Files federal lawsuit against mayor, city of Atlanta
Former Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran
Former Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran filed a federal civil rights lawsuit Wednesday against the city alleging he was wrongfully terminated simply because he holds unpopular religious views.
Cochran wrote a devotional book geared toward Christian men in which he mentioned homosexuality in an unfavorable light. Mayor Muhammad Kasim Reed fired Cochran in January, he says, because of Cochran’s “bad judgment,” alleging that Cochran did not come to him for permission to write the book.
Ironically, the mayor also said that Cochran’s book could have caused a lawsuit against the city, a clear reference to Atlanta’s politically powerful LGBT community, some of whom serve within Reed’s own administration.
“Let’s stop trying to make this about religious freedom, when it’s about making sure we have an environment in government where everyone can come to work,” Reed told WSB-TV in Atlanta.
Cochran and his lawyers say that’s a false argument the city has concocted merely as cover for its own act of intolerance.
“I was fired simply because of what I believe. I could not allow this unjust act toward me to go unchallenged, and I will not be passive and leave this fight for someone else,” Cochran said at a news conference Wednesday at the state Capitol.
Reed fired back with an angry denunciation of his former fire chief.
“It would take the United States Supreme Court, ordering me, for Kelvin Cochran to get his job back, because I know I made the right decision,” Reed told WSB-TV, the local ABC affiliate.
Reed first suspended the fire chief for 30 days in November and announced that Cochran would have to complete “sensitivity training” in diversity and tolerance. After the 30-day suspension Reed fired Cochran, saying it had nothing to do with Cochran’s religious views but rather Cochran’s judgment and lack of permission to write the book. Cochran maintains he did get permission from the city’s ethics department and also sent a copy of the book to Reed but never heard back from him.
Cochran filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last month, a precursor to the federal lawsuit.
“Americans are guaranteed the freedom to live without fear of being fired because of their beliefs and thoughts,” said David Cortman, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing Cochran in the suit. “The city of Atlanta is not above the Constitution and federal law. In America, a religious or ideological test cannot be used to fire a public servant.”
While Reed has tried to predicate the firing on the technicality that Cochran did not get the proper authorization to write the book, Cochran’s lawyers see that as a sham argument in light of prior comments by Reed and other city officials.
Written by LEO HOHMANN
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