CASECochran v. City of Atlanta

Client Story
Kelvin Cochran

Kelvin Cochran dedicated over 30 years of his life to fighting fires and protecting the communities in which he's lived and worked. After being born into extreme poverty in Shreveport, Louisiana, Kelvin knew he wanted more out of life. At the age of five, he watched firemen fight a fire that had started in his neighbor’s house and determined that he wanted to be a firefighter. He got his start in his hometown and worked his way up the ranks to become its Fire Chief in 1999, where he served until he was appointed Fire Chief for the city of Atlanta in 2008. His exemplary service record drew the attention of President Obama, who in 2009 appointed Kelvin as the U.S. Fire Administrator for the United States Fire Administration, the highest office in the profession. After the city “begged” him to return, Kelvin resumed his post as Atlanta Fire Chief in 2010.

 

Kelvin is actively involved at Elizabeth Baptist Church, where he is a deacon and leads a men's Bible study. Inspired by his faith, Chief Cochran wrote “Who Told You That You Were Naked?" a book which details the state of man since the fall of Adam in the Book of Genesis. The takeaway of his book is that only in Christ can men be rescued from their fallen condition and fulfill their purpose as husbands and fathers.

Chief Cochran’s book, "Who Told You That You Were Naked?" briefly discusses the clear biblical teaching that sex is reserved for marriage between a man and a woman. The mere statement of this well-known Christian belief, in a book written for men’s Bible study in his off-time, drew the ire of people seeking to redefine marriage who claim that Kelvin, in his official capacity as fire chief, shouldn’t be able to keep his job because his thoughts and beliefs don’t conform to theirs.

The city of Atlanta initially suspended Chief Cochran for 30 days without pay and ordered that he undergo sensitivity training. An investigation revealed that he had not discriminated against anyone, but at the end of his suspension he was fired.

Alliance Defending Freedom represented Chief Cochran in a suit filed against the city in federal court to vindicate his rights, including his rights to free speech and freedom of religion.

A federal court ruled that the city suspended and terminated Chief Cochran because he did not get permission from the city to write the book – a requirement that the court found to be an unconstitutional prior restraint on speech. Government cannot require a permission slip for its employees to write on important matters like faith and values in their off time. Those requirements are unconstitutional precisely because they enable the government to play speech favorites, approving messages it likes and denying requests for disfavored speech (like that of Chief Cochran’s here).

In October 2018, the city of Atlanta agreed to pay its former fire chief, Kelvin Cochran, $1.2 million in the wake of the federal court ruling.

 


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Summary
The city and mayor of Atlanta terminated the employment of Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran because of his Christian faith and beliefs. Mayor Kasim Reed first suspended Cochran for 30 days and announced that he would have to complete “sensitivity training” after activists who don’t agree with the fire chief’s Christian views on sex complained about a men’s devotional book Cochran had written on his personal time. Biblical sexual morality is mentioned only briefly in the 162-page book. After an investigation that included interviews with employees found Cochran did not discriminate against anyone, the mayor fired him anyway—citing as his basis, ironically, the need to tolerate diverse views.
News Releases

Atlanta to pay $1.2 million to former fire chief after firing him, violating his First Amendment freedoms

Religious Freedom

Atlanta to pay $1.2 million to former fire chief after firing him, violating his First Amendment freedoms

The city of Atlanta has agreed to pay its former fire chief, Kelvin Cochran, $1.2 million in the wake of a December 2017 court ruling that found some of the city’s policies that led to his termination are unconstitutional.

Oct 16, 2018 Read More

Court says Atlanta policies violate First Amendment freedoms of former fire chief, others

Religious Freedom

Court says Atlanta policies violate First Amendment freedoms of former fire chief, others

Ruling says rules requiring employees to obtain city’s permission before writing a book are unconstitutional

Dec 20, 2017 Read More

Former Atlanta fire chief to court: ‘I was unjustly fired for my beliefs’

Religious Freedom

Former Atlanta fire chief to court: ‘I was unjustly fired for my beliefs’

Press conference immediately following hearing Friday

Nov 16, 2017 Read More

Court allows lawsuit of unjustly fired fire chief to go forward against city of Atlanta

Religious Freedom

Court allows lawsuit of unjustly fired fire chief to go forward against city of Atlanta

ADF attorneys represent Kelvin Cochran

Dec 16, 2015 Read More

ADF to court: Atlanta must be held accountable for unjustly firing fire chief

Religious Freedom

ADF to court: Atlanta must be held accountable for unjustly firing fire chief

ADF attorney available to media following hearing Wednesday

Oct 13, 2015 Read More

ADF extinguishes Atlanta’s arguments in defense of discrimination against fire chief

Religious Freedom

ADF extinguishes Atlanta’s arguments in defense of discrimination against fire chief

Brief filed in federal court answers city’s arguments for firing Kelvin Cochran

Apr 09, 2015 Read More

Atlanta’s desperate defense of discrimination still deficient

Religious Freedom

Atlanta’s desperate defense of discrimination still deficient

ADF: City continues to defend the indefensible

Mar 26, 2015 Read More

Fire chief sues city of Atlanta over unjust termination

Religious Freedom

Fire chief sues city of Atlanta over unjust termination

ADF attorneys represent Kelvin Cochran, fired for his faith

Feb 18, 2015 Read More

New developments concerning fired Atlanta fire chief

Religious Freedom

New developments concerning fired Atlanta fire chief

ADF official comment

Feb 17, 2015 Read More

City, mayor of Atlanta playing with constitutional fire

Religious Freedom

City, mayor of Atlanta playing with constitutional fire

ADF attorneys representing terminated fire chief explore legal options

Jan 14, 2015 Read More
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Documents
https://adflegal.blob.core.windows.net/mainsite-new/docs/default-source/documents/legal-documents/cochran-v.-city-of-atlanta/cochran-v-city-of-atlanta---district-court-summary-judgment-decision.pdf?sfvrsn=47101807_4https://adflegal.blob.core.windows.net/mainsite-new/docs/default-source/documents/legal-documents/cochran-v.-city-of-atlanta/cochran-v-city-of-atlanta---plaintiff's-summary-judgment-reply-brief.pdf?sfvrsn=b47f6432_4https://adflegal.blob.core.windows.net/mainsite-new/docs/default-source/documents/legal-documents/cochran-v.-city-of-atlanta/cochran-v-city-of-atlanta---defendants'-summary-judgment-reply-brief.pdf?sfvrsn=c2a45bdf_4https://adflegal.blob.core.windows.net/mainsite-new/docs/default-source/documents/legal-documents/cochran-v.-city-of-atlanta/cochran-v-city-of-atlanta---plaintiff's-brief-in-response-to-defendants'-motion-for-summary-judgment.pdf?sfvrsn=382265cd_4https://adflegal.blob.core.windows.net/mainsite-new/docs/default-source/documents/legal-documents/cochran-v.-city-of-atlanta/cochran-v-city-of-atlanta---defendants'-brief-in-response-to-plaintiff's-motion-for-summary-judgment.pdf?sfvrsn=c83674e2_4https://adflegal.blob.core.windows.net/mainsite-new/docs/default-source/documents/legal-documents/cochran-v.-city-of-atlanta/cochran-v-city-of-atlanta---plaintiff's-motion-for-and-brief-in-support-of-summary-judgment.pdf?sfvrsn=ffe68780_4https://adflegal.blob.core.windows.net/mainsite-new/docs/default-source/documents/legal-documents/cochran-v.-city-of-atlanta/cochran-v-city-of-atlanta---defendants'-motion-for-and-brief-in-support-of-summary-judgment.pdf?sfvrsn=df040c3b_4https://adflegal.blob.core.windows.net/mainsite-new/docs/default-source/documents/legal-documents/cochran-v.-city-of-atlanta/cochran-v-city-of-atlatna---district-court-decision-on-motion-to-dismiss.pdf?sfvrsn=b68ed35a_4https://adflegal.blob.core.windows.net/mainsite-new/docs/default-source/documents/legal-documents/cochran-v.-city-of-atlanta/cochran-v-city-of-atlanta-response-to-motion-to-dismiss.pdf?sfvrsn=e1fc58bd_4https://adflegal.blob.core.windows.net/mainsite-new/docs/default-source/documents/legal-documents/cochran-v.-city-of-atlanta/cochran-v-city-of-atlatna-motion-to-dismiss.pdf?sfvrsn=df2b55a5_4https://adflegal.blob.core.windows.net/mainsite-new/docs/default-source/documents/legal-documents/cochran-v.-city-of-atlanta/cochran-v-city-of-atlanta-district-court-complaint.pdf?sfvrsn=cea75fd4_4https://adflegal.blob.core.windows.net/mainsite-new/docs/default-source/documents/legal-documents/cochran-v.-city-of-atlanta/cochran-v-city-of-atlanta-eeoc-complaint.pdf?sfvrsn=8f687e15_4
Court Title Date
Trial Court
District court summary judgment decision Dec 20 2017
Trial Court
Plaintiff's summary judgment reply brief Jul 20 2017
Trial Court
Defendants' summary judgment reply brief Jul 20 2017
Trial Court
Plaintiff's brief in response to defendants' motion for summary judgment Jun 20 2017
Trial Court
Defendants' brief in response to plaintiff's motion for summary judgment Jun 20 2017
Trial Court
Plaintiff's motion for and brief in support of summary judgment May 19 2017
Trial Court
Defendants' motion for and brief in support of summary judgment Apr 27 2017
Trial Court
District court decision on motion to dismiss Dec 16 2015
Trial Court
Response to motion to dismiss Apr 08 2015
Trial Court
Motion to dismiss Mar 25 2015
Trial Court
District court complaint Feb 18 2015
Administrative Agency
EEOC complaint Jan 19 2015

Commentary

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Watch: Chief Kelvin Cochran's Story

 


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