A wrongful-termination case filed by Atlanta’s former fire chief can proceed, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
U.S. District Judge Leigh Martin May was asked by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and the City of Atlanta to throw out the case filed by Kelvin Cochran.
But Judge May granted most of Mr. Cochran’s motions, including his primary claims of unconstitutional retaliation; discrimination based on his viewpoint; and violation of his rights to freedom of religion, association and due process.
Judge May also favored the city by dismissing three of Mr. Cochran’s motions on 14th Amendment protections, and releasing Mr. Reed from three of the charges filed against him.
A court hearing date has yet to be set.
Mr. Cochran, an evangelical Christian and church deacon as well as decorated fire chief, was fired Jan. 6, after a 30-day unpaid suspension.
Mr. Cochran sued the city and its mayor, saying the government fired him because it didn’t like the views he expressed in a self-published book, “Who Told You That You Were Naked? Overcoming the Stronghold of Condemnation.”
The book, written at home, is intended to guide men on how to live a faith-filled, virtuous life. It says “sex outside the confines of marriage between a man and a woman” — such as sodomy, homosexuality, lesbianism, adultery, fornication and lasciviousness — are contrary to God’s will, according to the Bible.
Mr. Cochran said in 2014, he shared copies of his book with Mr. Reed, three Atlanta City Council members, and around 22 employees of the Atlanta Fire and Rescue Department.
Most of the employees had requested a copy, he said.
However, one employee who received or saw the book didn’t like the passages on sexual morality. He showed it to openly gay City Councilman Alex Wan, who met with city officials; they decided Mr. Cochran had to be fired.
The city has argued that Mr. Cochran made several serious mistakes, including failing to follow city ordinances in producing the book, and interfering with “internal order and discipline” by giving a religious book to his subordinates at work.
After an October court hearing, City Attorney Robert Godfrey told NBC-TV’s 11 Alive that he believed the case “boils down to whether we allow someone to bring discriminatory ideas into the workplace and hand them around to employees and get away with it.”
Mr. Cochran’s lawyers, Kevin Theriot and David Cortman of Alliance Defending Freedom, said he was improperly punished for his religious views and his written views on human sexuality.
“A religious or ideological test cannot be used to fire a public servant, but the city did exactly that, as the evidence and facts of this case clearly demonstrate,” Mr. Theriot said Wednesday.
“We look forward to proceeding with this case because of the injustice against Chief Cochran, one of the most accomplished fire chiefs in the nation, but also because the city’s actions place every city employee in jeopardy who may hold to a belief that city officials don’t like,” he said.