Christian Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran Files Religious Discrimination Complaint Against City of Atlanta After Termination Over Book
Attorneys for Kelvin Cochran filed a complaint on his behalf with the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission on Wednesday, claiming the ousted Fire Chief faced religious discrimination by the City of Atlanta.
Cochran, a devout Christian, was fired by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed earlier this month after seven years of service as Atlanta's fire chief for sharing his faith in a self-published book and giving copies to employees. His attorneys filed the federal complaint on religious freedom grounds and accused the city of violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
"Americans are guaranteed the freedom to live without fear of losing their jobs because of their beliefs and thoughts," Cochran's attorney, Jonathan Crumly, said in a statement to The Christian Post. "We are continuing to evaluate all available legal options to vindicate Chief Cochran after his unjust termination."
A city spokeswoman said it will defend Reed's decision to terminate Cochran "whether through the EEOC administrative process or in any other appropriate forum," according to MyFoxAtlanta.com.
The EEOC oversees workplace discrimination and enforces laws which make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or employee based on factors such as race and religion. They will investigate Cochran's complaint and determine whether or not to bring forward a lawsuit on his behalf.
The case has sparked widespread debates about First Amendment rights, particularly regarding religious freedom. Cochran previously told CP that he believes his termination is proof of a growing threat on religious freedoms facing Christians and other people of faith.
In his 2013 book, Who Told You That You Are Naked?, Cochran calls homosexuality "sexual perversion" and "vulgar" and also likens it to "bestiality" among other things.
In Nov., city officials said Cochran had violated policy by self-publishing his book and then handing it out to employees. Subsequently, he was suspended without pay and forced to undergo sensitivity training.
The book was brought to their attention when an AFRD member complained about Cochran distributing copies in the workplace.
Reed has said in multiple statements that Cochran was not fired for his religious beliefs but rather "because he displayed bad judgment." He added that Cochran did not follow the correct protocol prior to writing the self-published book even though the former fire chief claims otherwise.
"The truth is that I am a man of deep faith myself, and we are a city of laws. Chief Cochran's book ... was published in violation of the city's Standards of Conduct, which required prior approval from the Board of Ethics," Reed wrote via Facebook recently.
The city's ethics code requires that a commissioner get approval from the board of ethics prior to engaging in private activity for pay.
"I had legal permission to write the book from the city's ethics officer [Nina Hickson]," Cochran recently told The Christian Post in an exclusive interview. "[It] was through a verbal conversation, there was no documentation … she said it was legal and I was authorized to write it and that she wanted a copy when I finish, after I told her what the book was going to be about."
In a separate statement to CP, Hickson refuted these claims and cited the Atlanta City Code of Ordinances, Section 2-820 (d).
"The Atlanta's Ethics Code establishes the required approval process for City Commissioners who wish to engage in outside activities for pay," Hickson wrote in an email. "Consequently, I did not authorize Chief Cochran to write and publish the book, nor did I have the authority to do so."
A city investigation determined Cochran had not discriminated against LGBT employees but he was fired anyway.
Last week, hundreds of religious freedom advocates gathered for the "Standing for our Faith Rally" in the Georgia state Capitol rotunda to showcase support for Cochran. Protesters marched to city hall where they hand-delivered a petition with 50,000 signatures to Reed's office.
Numerous petitions calling for Cochran's reinstatement as fire chief have reportedly since collectively garnered more than 100,000 signatures.
In 2009, Obama appointed Cochran as the fire administrator for the U.S. Fire Administration. He returned to his job as Atlanta's fire chief the following year.