Late last year, Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran was fired for expressing his Christian belief that marriage should be limited to one man and one woman. The expression was made in a 162-page devotional that Cochran wrote on his own time and only briefly mentioned the subject.
The Mayor and city of Atlanta forced him to undergo sensitivity training and suspended him for 30 days without pay pending an investigation of discrimination. The investigation involved Cochran’s coworkers and others as they were asked about any potentially discriminatory actions or statements.
As the Alliance Defended Freedom reports, the investigation did not find Cochran guilty of any discrimination. But, Mayor Kasim Reed fired him anyway ironically citing Cochran’s need to accept diverse views.
Besides his expressed view and the allegations of discrimination, his case involved whether he was even allowed to write a book to begin with, as the city required written permission for city officials to do so. This notion was contested in court and later ruled unconstitutional because, as ADF reports, “The government can’t force its employees to get its permission before they engage in free speech. It also can’t fire them for exercising that First Amendment freedom, causing them to lose both their freedom and their livelihoods.”
ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot, who represented Cochran, argued the above point and said he was pleased when the court ruled in his client’s favor.
The fire chief’s legal struggle was a lengthy one, but he was later given $1.2 million by the city of Atlanta for their mishandling of the situation.
Check it out:
The city of Atlanta has agreed to pay its former fire chief, Kelvin Cochran, $1.2 million in the wake of a December 2017 court ruling that found some of the city’s policies that led to his termination are unconstitutional. The court determined that Atlanta’s rules restricting non-work speech, like the book for Christian men that Cochran wrote, were too broad and allowed city officials to unconstitutionally discriminate against views with which they disagree.
On Monday, the city council voted on the specific amount of damages and attorneys’ fees that it owes to the highly decorated former fire chief after negotiating with his Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys.
“The government can’t force its employees to get its permission before they engage in free speech. It also can’t fire them for exercising that First Amendment freedom, causing them to lose both their freedom and their livelihoods,” said ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot, who argued before the court on behalf of Cochran last year. “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.”
With regard to the city’s “pre-clearance” rules, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia wrote in its December 2017 decision in Cochran v. City of Atlanta, “This policy would prevent an employee from writing and selling a book on golf or badminton on his own time and, without prior approval, would subject him to firing. It is unclear to the Court how such an outside employment would ever affect the City’s ability to function, and the City provides no evidence to justify it…. The potential for stifled speech far outweighs any unsupported assertion of harm.”
The court added that provisions within the rules “do not set out objective standards for the supervisor to employ.” “This does not pass constitutional muster,” the court concluded.
Check out more of Cochran’s story in the video below:Note: The author of this article has included commentary that expresses an opinion and analysis of the facts.