André D. Cooley (pictured left) and The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit Monday against The Forrest County Sherriff’s Department of Mississippi alleging that he was fired because his supervisors learned he was gay. The lawsuit requests unspecified damages from the Sheriff’s Department, Sheriff Billy McGee, Chief of Corrections Charles Bolton and Staff Sgt. Donnell Brannon, a jail employee.
The complaint states that Cooley had told a few co-workers about his sexual orientation but was still not officially “out of the closet” on the job. The incidents pertinent to the lawsuit began with a 911 call placed by Cooley on June 14, requesting help in a domestic disturbance. A Hattiesburg Police Department report lists Cooley as the victim and describes his male companion as the assailant. The complaint states Bolton also responded to the call and ordered Cooley to report to his immediate supervisor before returning to work after learning of the two men’s relationship.
Sheriff Billy McGee said he stands 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.” McGee added: “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.
There is no federal or state law forbidding discrimination in Missisippi on grounds of sexual orientation. (But there would have been if ENDA was passed)