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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 22, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 43
ACLU will represent Mississippi officer fired for being Gay
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ACLU will represent Mississippi officer fired for being Gay

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The ACLU announced on October 18 that it would represent Andre Cooley, a Forrest County, Mississippi, Sheriff's Deputy who says he was fired when his superiors discovered he is Gay.

Listed as defendants in the suit are Sheriff Billy McGee, Chief of Corrections Charles Bolton, and Staff Sergeant of Jail Operations Donnell Brannon.

Cooley was fired on June 15.

According to the ACLU complaint, one of Cooley's superiors, Staff Sgt Brannon, told his co-workers, 'Cooley was fired because he turned out to be a faggot.'

Cooley says that he was at home with his boyfriend on June 14, 2010, off-duty and out of uniform.

The boyfriend became violent, Cooley says, and he called 911 for help. The police report of the incident confirms Cooley's story and lists him as the 'victim' of domestic violence.

One of the officers who responded to the call was defendant Charles Bolton, the chief of corrections.

In response to Chief Bolton's questions, Cooley's boyfriend disclosed that he and Cooley were in a Gay relationship. On learning that Cooley was Gay and in a same-sex relationship, Bolton immediately told Cooley not to come back to work before reporting to his immediate supervisor.

When he did report to his supervisor, Cooley was told he was suspended indefinitely.

The next day, Staff Sgt Brannon informed Cooley that the Sheriff's Department had terminated him because of 'the type of situation' in which Cooley had been involved.

Cooley then asked Brannon whether he was being fired because he is Gay.

After a brief pause, Staff Sergeant Brannon responded, 'Yes.'

According to the ACLU complaint, no charges or disciplinary proceedings have ever been filed against Cooley accusing him of domestic violence or any other misconduct.

Sheriff McGee confirmed that no charges had been filed against Cooley.

Nevertheless, McGee told the Hattiesburg American newspaper that he stood by the decision to fire Cooley.

'He got in a fight with his boyfriend, and the police were called to his house for a domestic disturbance,' McGee said. 'Those kinds of incidents don't speak well for people in law enforcement.'

He also said he thought the department could win the case.

'I certainly don't think the federal government should have the authority to determine what kind of character a person has to have to be representative of a law enforcement officer in Forrest County,' McGee said.

He also said he would not comment on the issue of Cooley's sexual orientation, adding that he would speak to that in court.

In a related case, the Forrest County Sheriff's Department also contested Cooley's application for unemployment benefits.

A decision from the Mississippi Department of Employment Security dated July 21 says Cooley 'displayed inappropriate conduct and behavior while off-duty, unacceptable for any officer.'

Cooley appealed that finding, and Administrative Law Judge Lee Houston reversed the decision on August 25.

'The claimant was discharged, but not due to misconduct,' Houston's decision says. 'The employer has not provided substantial evidence that the claimant was involved in any sort of misconduct.'

The ACLU complaint says that Cooley's search for employment has been impaired by the department's attempt to contest his unemployment benefits.

'What makes things particularly difficult in Mississippi is that there's no federal or state law forbidding discrimination [on grounds of sexual orientation],' ACLU attorney Bear Atwood said.

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