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Forrest County Sheriff’s Department to Reinstate Gay Corrections Officer After ACLU Lawsuit
Department Will Clarify Non-Discrimination Policy and Andre Cooley Will Return to Job
HATTIESBURG, Miss. - March 28 - The Forrest County Sheriff’s Department will reinstate Andre Cooley as a deputy corrections officer as part of the settlement of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Mississippi, in which Cooley alleged that he was fired because he is gay. As part of the settlement agreement reached today, the sheriff’s department will also update its written non-discrimination policy to make explicit that the sheriff’s department does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.
“I am looking forward to returning to a job that I loved in the sheriff’s department,” Cooley said. “I’m very happy that the sheriff’s department has clarified in writing that they do not discriminate based on sexual orientation. Everyone should be judged by their ability to do the job, not by their sexual orientation.”
“We are happy to have Mr. Cooley return to work in the department. His sexual orientation has no bearing on his ability to perform the duties of a corrections officer,” said Sheriff Billy McGee. “The Forrest County Sheriff’s Department is an equal opportunity employer, and we do not discriminate based on sexual orientation. Our new written policy will make this position clear to every employee in our department.”
“Andre Cooley is a fine officer who never should have endured this experience. The sheriff’s department has done the right thing by making it clear that the department will not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation,” said Bear Atwood, Legal Director at the ACLU of Mississippi. “All employers in Mississippi should follow the Forrest County Sheriff’s Department’s lead and include sexual orientation in their anti-discrimination policies. Discrimination is degrading and dehumanizing, creates a negative and unproductive work environment and robs employers and society of highly qualified employees.”
The settlement agreement, which also includes a monetary amount, does not constitute an admission of liability by the sheriff’s department or its employees.
“This is a great outcome for Andre, and for the residents of Mississippi,” said Joshua Block, staff attorney at the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual & Transgender Project.
“Unfortunately, Mississippi residents who work for private employers do not have protections from sexual orientation discrimination. Andre’s case highlights the need for state and federal legislation, like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, to ensure that all Mississippi residents have the same anti-discrimination protections as employees of the Forrest County Sheriff’s Department.”
For more information on this case, please visit: www.aclu.org/lgbt-rights/cooley-v-forrest-county-sheriff-s-department