Metro Weekly

Former Atlanta fire chief who espoused anti-gay views wins $1.2 million settlement from city

Kelvin Cochran claimed the city discriminated against him because of his religious beliefs opposing homosexuality

Former Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran – Photo: Bill Koplitz

The Atlanta City Council has voted to pay $1.2 million to settle a lawsuit brought by the city’s former fire chief, who was fired after a writing a book that denounces homosexuality.

The Council voted 11-3 to approve the settlement, which now heads to Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms for her approval, reports NBC News.

The lawsuit was filed against Bottoms’ predecessor, Kasim Reed, but the city’s legal counsel had urged the city to settle the lawsuit to avoid paying a higher amount in damages and legal fees.

Kelvin Cochran sued Reed’s administration after he was fired for writing a book called “Who Told You That You Were Naked?” for a men’s Bible study. He self-published the book in late 2013 and gave it to some subordinates.

Part of the book claims that people who have sex outside of a marriage — defined only as between a man and a woman, according to Cochran’s religious worldview — including LGBTQ people, are “naked,” meaning they are “wicked, ungodly sinners.”

A year later, an assistant fire chief raised concerns about Cochran proselytizing on the job and about the book’s statements on homosexuality, particularly since Cochran touted his role as Atlanta’s fire chief.

Reed then suspended Cochran for 30 days because he had failed to adhere to the city’s guidelines for obtaining prior written approval before undertaking outside employment.

Reed told Cochran not to make public comments about his suspension, a direct order which Cochran proceeded to violate. Reed then fired Cochran, who sued the city, alleging he was fired because of his religious beliefs.

Supporters of Cochran sent 17,000 angry emails — many containing racial slurs — to Reed, accusing him of discriminating against Cochran.

Last December, U.S. District Judge Leigh Martin May of the Northern District of Georgia ruled that the city did not violate Cochran’s right to free speech or free association, not did it discriminate against him based on his religious beliefs.

But May did find that the city’s rules for obtaining pre-clearance for outside employment were likely unconstitutional, as they fail to define what could constitute a potential conflict of interest.

The right-wing legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented Cochran, continues to cast the issue as one of religious discrimination and free speech, despite May’s ruling that neither of those situations applied to Cochran’s case. Nonetheless, ADF celebrated the settlement in a statement issued to NBC News on their client’s behalf.

“We are very pleased that the city is compensating Chief Cochran as it should, and we hope this will serve as a deterrent to any government that would trample upon the constitutionally protected freedoms of its public servants,” said attorney Kevin Theriot.

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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