The complaint, filed Wednesday, accuses the city of violating Title 7 of the Civil Rights Act. The move — “based on the City’s clear religious discrimination against the Chief,” according to a statement from Cochran’s attorneys — could portend future legal action against the city from its former fire chief.
“We are continuing to evaluate all available legal options to vindicate Chief Cochran after his unjust termination,” Cochran’s attorneys said.
“Unfortunately,” Jenna Garland, a spokeswoman for Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed said in an e-mailed statement on Friday, “the only truthful portions [of the complaint] are his statements about his tenure as Chief and the identity of those in the room with him during two meetings. Everything else is patently false.”
At issue: Cochran’s self-published book, “Who Told You That You Were Naked,” which called “homosexuality” and “lesbianism” a “sexual perversion” morally equivalent to “pederasty” and “bestiality.” Following a month-long suspension related to the book, Cochran’s tenure as Atlanta’s fire chief was terminated on Jan. 6 by the city’s mayor.
“The book expresses my deeply held religious convictions on many subjects,” Cochran says in a copy of the EEOC complaint provided to The Post. “I believe that I have been discriminated against because of my religion — Christian.”
In one section of the book, Cochran wrote that “naked men refuse to give in, so they pursue sexual fulfillment through multiple partners, with the opposite sex, the same sex and sex outside of marriage and many other vile, vulgar and inappropriate ways which defile their body-temple and dishonor God.”
The city said in November that it was investigating whether Cochran had violated city nondiscrimination policies by publishing the book and distributing it to multiple employees. In announcing his decision to end Cochran’s employment, Reed said that Cochran’s “judgment and management skills were the subject of the inquiry and my decision to terminate his employment with the City of Atlanta.” The mayor added: “Cochran’s personal religious beliefs are not the issue.”
Reed’s decision had the support of the Atlanta Professional Firefighters union, which released a statement commending the chief’s firing and noting that the group “supports LGBT rights and equality among all employees.”
But Cochran’s complaint — along with outcry from some Christian groups and leaders over the disciplinary action — demonstrate that some people did, in fact, read Cochran’s firing as a condemnation of his Christian beliefs. His supporters include several conservative religious organizations, at the national and local level, including the Faith and Freedom Coalition, the Family Research Council, and the Georgia Baptist Convention. Supporters recently organized a rally for Cochran.
“This is the new demand of modernity: Surrender to the moral revolution or keep your mouth shut,” the presidents of Liberty Institute in Texas Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kentucky wrote in a joint commentary.
They added: “The city of Atlanta now has an official theological position on the sinfulness of homosexuality? May God help us.”
Cochran and the city disagree on several details, including whether the former fire chief adequately sought advance permission to publish his book. Reed said in his announcement of the firing that Cochran failed to notify him of his plans to publish the book, as city policy dictates. Cochran says in the EEOC complaint that he obtained permission from the city’s Ethics Department. In the Friday statement, Garland called Cochran’s claim “untruthful,” adding, “Mr. Cochran was told that the City Code required him to get the approval of the Board of Ethics before publishing his book, something he admits he never did.”
The former chief says he has another reason to believe that the city fired him for his religious beliefs, and not for violating a nondiscrimination policy: “Upon return from my suspension,” the complaint reads, “I was informed by [the city’s chief operating officer]…that the investigation revealed zero instances of discrimination by me against any other employee of the city.” The complaint notes that “these actions by the City arose due to the content of my book and the fact that I attempted to conduct myself in accordance with my religious convictions at all times, even when I’m at work.”
The city, again, disagrees with Cochran’s version of the story. “What he was actually told was that his distribution of a book about his beliefs within his department had caused his employees to question his ability to continue to lead a diverse workforce,” Garland’s response to the complaint reads. The response goes on to state that “the religious nature of his book is not the reason he is no longer employed by the City of Atlanta. The totality of his conduct-including the way he handled himself during his suspension after he agreed not to make public comments during the investigation-reflected poor judgment and failure to follow clearly defined work protocols.”
The city released the results of its investigation into Cochran’s conduct earlier this month. In that report, which concluded that Cochran lacked adequate permission to publish his book, the city notes that Cochran distributed the book to at least nine employees, three of whom say they received it unsolicited.
Referring to interviews with multiple employees of the city’s fire department, the report concludes that “there was a consistent sentiment among the witnesses that firefighters throughout the organization are appalled by the sentiments expressed in the book. There also is general agreement the contents of the book have eroded trust and have compromised the ability of the chief to provide leadership in the future.”
The report adds: “No interviewed witness could point to a specific instance in which any member of the organization has been treated unfairly by Chief Cochran on the basis of his religious beliefs.”
[This post, originally published on Thursday, has been updated]