Fired Atlanta Fire Chief Files Federal Suit Against City

By Phillip Lucas | February 20, 2015

The former Atlanta fire chief who was fired after self-publishing a book that described homosexuality as a perversion has sued the city and Mayor Kasim Reed.

Former chief Kelvin Cochran announced the federal suit during a news conference on Wednesday. He was accompanied by attorneys from Alliance Defending Freedom, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Christian nonprofit.

Cochran has said he was fired because he expressed his religious beliefs in the 162-page book, which he said he did not write in his capacity as fire chief, although he said he asked and was told by the city’s ethics officer that he could identify himself as such in the “about the author” section. The lawsuit seeks lost wages, pay for emotional distress and compensation for costs associated with finding a new job.

Cochran said an offer to work as an assistant chief administrative officer of a Louisiana city was rescinded shortly after he was suspended from his position in Atlanta in late November.

Reed has said Cochran was fired in January because he gave the book to subordinates at work who hadn’t asked for it.

In mid-January, Reed said that an investigative report showed Cochran gave the book to a battalion chief while they were discussing the battalion chief’s upcoming promotion to assistant chief.

The mayor has also said Cochran was fired because he violated city-employee protocol by publishing the book without authorization.

Cochran said in the complaint that he gave a copy of the book to one of Reed’s assistants in January 2014 and later asked Reed whether he himself had read it. Cochran said the mayor told him he would read it on an upcoming flight.

Additionally, Cochran expressed anti-gay beliefs while identifying himself as fire chief and gave the book to co-workers, which may have left them thinking they were expected to embrace his beliefs, Reed spokeswoman Jenna Garland said in an email.

“The totality of his conduct – including the way he handled himself during his suspension after he agreed not to make public comments during the investigation – reflected poor judgment and failure to follow clearly defined work protocols,” Garland said. She added that city officials are confident they were within their legal rights and that firing Cochran was the right thing to do.

Cochran’s termination prompted an outcry from several local and national groups, including the Washington-based Family Research Council and the Georgia-based Faith and Freedom Coalition. Republican members of Georgia’s congressional delegation also wrote a letter to Reed, criticizing Cochran’s termination and asking for his reinstatement.

“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,” ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman said in a release.

“The very faith that led me to pursue my career has been used to take it from me,” Cochran said in a news release. “All Americans are guaranteed the freedom to hold to their beliefs without the consequences that I have experienced.”

Reed has repeatedly dismissed arguments that Cochran was fired because of his religious beliefs, saying that he is also a man of faith.

Topics Lawsuits

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