Atlanta Fire Chief Claims Discrimination – Does He Have a Case?

January 26, 2015 DiscriminationWrongful Termination

Fascinating local news story about deposed Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran filing a claim of religious discrimination due to his termination.

Looking at it from a legal perspective, I believe his case certainly meets the requirements for an actionable claim.  The City is giving a business reason for the termination as questionable “judgment” and “management skills,” according to Mayor Kasim Reed.  Going only by what we know right now – that there have been no public errors in judgment or management by Mr. Cochran, or at least no more or less than have been going on since the beginning of his tenure – the City looks like it’s simply trying not to say that the termination was based on his religious beliefs being broadcast publicly and (arguably) being forced upon his co-workers.  They may not need to approach the situation that way.

We don’t have a copy of his employment contract to review, but we can assume from the complaint that the City did require approval before the Chief could publish a book of any kind.  Whether he got that permission is in dispute and will be a question for the jury if it goes that far.  Atlanta may very well have had a rule that religious books of any kind will not be allowed by a Police Chief.  Assuming Mr. Cochran agreed to that, his case becomes very weak.  If, however, Atlanta did not have such a rule and simply made it on-the-fly to deal with Mr. Cochran’s book, the City’s case becomes weaker.

This case gives employees and employers out there a very good lesson: make sure the employment contract you are signing says what you want it to say and make sure that you understand what it means to agree to it.  This case, like so many others, will hinge greatly upon the employment agreement between Atlanta and Mr. Cochran.

More from the Washington Post.