Cochran was fired by Kasim Reed, then mayor of Atlanta, in January 2015 after self-publishing a book titled Who Told You That You Were Naked?, which dealt with his Christian beliefs. In the book Cochran called homosexuality "unclean" and likened it to bestiality. He also expressed sexist and anti-Semitic opinions.
Cochran claimed he was fired for his religious beliefs, but Reed said he was dismissed because he violated the city's code of conduct by publishing the book without getting clearance from its ethics board. Also, Reed said, it undermined his confidence that Cochran could lead a diverse workforce.
In his lawsuit, Cochran was represented by the anti-LGBTQ Alliance Defending Freedom. It has represented numerous high-profile clients, including Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips, whose case involving his refusal to create a cake for a gay couple's wedding went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where he won a qualified victory.
Keisha Lance-Bottoms, Atlanta's current mayor, said the city's legal counsel recommended the settlement because further court proceedings could leave the city liable for a higher amount.
Last December, U. S. District Judge Leigh Martin May delivered a mixed ruling in the case, the Journal-Constitution reports. "Because Plaintiff expressed his opinion that the death of all individuals who engage in homosexual and extramarital sex would be celebrated, it was not unreasonable for the City to fear public erosion of trust in the Fire Department," she wrote. However, she said the requirement for him to clear the book's publication with the ethics board was unconstitutional.
The Alliance Defending Freedom praised the settlement, which includes its legal fees. "We believe that the settlement sends a strong message throughout Atlanta and the rest of the country that the government cannot require its permission in advance for someone to speak about their faith on their own time," said a statement released Tuesday by senior counsel David Cortman. "The First Amendment provides the only permission necessary."
But Reed was critical. "I believed, and continue to believe, that his actions, decisions, and lack of judgment undermined his ability to effectively manage a large, diverse workforce," he said in a prepared statement. "At a time when civil rights, human rights and inclusion are under attack both locally and nationally, this decision sends the wrong message to individuals in the LGBTQ community and to all Atlantans."