Former Atlanta fire chief to court: ‘I was unjustly fired for my beliefs’
Attorney sound bite: Kevin Theriot
WHO: Former Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran, ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot
WHAT: Press conference following hearing on cross-motions for summary judgment in Cochran v. City of Atlanta
WHEN: Friday, Nov. 17, immediately following hearing, which begins at 9 a.m. EST
WHERE: U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, 2167 Richard B. Russell Federal Building, 75 Ted Turner Drive SW, Atlanta
ATLANTA – Former Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran and Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot will speak at a press conference Friday immediately following a pivotal hearing in federal court in which Theriot will argue that the city unjustly fired Cochran from his job because of his religious beliefs. After Cochran and Theriot offer their remarks at the press conference, Theriot will be available for questions from the media.
In December 2015, the court allowed the lawsuit, Cochran v. City of Atlanta, to go forward on Cochran’s primary claims of retaliation, discrimination based on his viewpoint, and the violation of his constitutionally protected freedoms of religion, association, and due process (firing without following proper procedure). ADF attorneys have argued that the city’s arguments themselves 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 can’t be used to fire a public servant, but that’s what the city did, as the facts of this case clearly demonstrate,” said Theriot. “Chief Cochran is one of the most accomplished fire chiefs in the nation, but the city’s actions place every city employee in jeopardy who may hold to a belief that city officials don’t like.”
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 without pay 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 at that time confirm the truth about why the city fired Cochran.
“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 2014 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.
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.”
- Pronunciation guide: Theriot (TAIR’-ee-oh)
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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