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Published On: Thu, Oct 15th, 2015

Kelvin Cochran, Georgia fire chief ‘wrongful termination’ case begins

Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsels Kevin Theriot and David Cortman went to court on behalf of former Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran. Theriot’s oral argument Wednesday before the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia claimed that the city unjustly fired because of his religious beliefs.

The city is seeking dismissal of the ADF lawsuit Cochran v. City of Atlanta.

In April, ADF filed a brief explaining that the city failed to make a persuasive argument for the court to dismiss the suit. Instead, ADF attorneys argue, the city’s arguments confirm Cochran’s claim that the city fired him for holding and expressing religious beliefs city officials didn’t like.

“A religious or ideological test cannot be used to fire a public servant, but that’s what the city did,” said Theriot. “That places every city employee in jeopardy who may hold to a belief that city officials don’t like. Tolerance must apply to people of all different viewpoints, not just those who agree with the beliefs the government favors.”

After activists who don’t agree with Cochran’s Christian views on sex and marriage complained about a brief mention of the topics in a 162-page book Cochran had written on his personal time, Mayor Kasim Reed suspended Cochran for 30 days and announced that he would have to complete “sensitivity training.” Reed then fired him, even though a city investigation concluded that he did not discriminate against anyone. Public statements Reed and City Councilman Alex Wan made late last year confirm the truth about why the city fired Cochran.

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“I want to be clear that the material in Chief Cochran’s book is not representative of my personal beliefs and is inconsistent with the administration’s work to make Atlanta a more welcoming city for all citizens…,” Reed said in November of last year to explain why he suspended Cochran.

That same month, Wan told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “I respect each individual’s right to have their own thoughts, beliefs and opinions, but when you’re a city employee and those thoughts, beliefs and opinions are different from the city’s, you have to check them at the door.”

Reed recounted in his 2014 State of the City Address that he “begged” Cochran to return to Atlanta in 2010 from his job as U.S. fire administrator in the Obama administration. Cochran agreed, and the city council confirmed him to serve a second time as the city’s fire chief, a job Cochran originally held from 2008 to 2009.

Cochran is one of the most accomplished fire chiefs of all time. In 2012, Fire Chief Magazine named Cochran “Fire Chief of the Year.” In a city news release issued about the award, Reed thanked Cochran for his “pioneering efforts to improve performance and service within the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department,” applauded “Chief Cochran and all of Atlanta’s brave firefighters for the commitment to excellence shown throughout the department,” and recognized that Cochran’s “national recognition” as Fire Chief of the Year was “much-deserved.”

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.

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