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Gay Corrections Officer Reinstated After ACLU Lawsuit in Mississippi

Joshua Block,
Senior Staff Attorney,
ACLU LGBT & HIV Project
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March 29, 2011

In December, we blogged about a lawsuit we filed on behalf of Andre Cooley, a corrections officer with the Forrest County Sheriff’s Department in Mississippi who alleged that he was fired after his superiors learned he is gay. Yesterday, we announced a settlement in the case! Andre will be reinstated to his job, and the sheriff’s department will update its nondiscrimination policy to make explicit that the department does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. The settlement also includes an undisclosed monetary payment.

“I am looking forward to returning to a job that I loved in the sheriff’s department,” Andre said a statement released yesterday.

“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.

We’re thrilled Andre got his job back and that the sheriff’s department has adopted an explicit policy prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

But this case is also a reminder that in most parts of the country, people who work for private companies do not have any protection from anti-LGBT discrimination. Under the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause, sheriff’s departments and other public employers may not discriminate against employees on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. But in 29 states — including Mississippi — it is still legal for a private employer to fire someone solely based on sexual orientation.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) would make it illegal to discriminate against an employee for being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, just as it is currently illegal to discriminate against an employee because of his or her race, religion, national origin, disability or gender. President Obama has said he will sign ENDA if it passes Congress, but even though ENDA was first introduced over 16 years ago and has broad support in both the Senate and the House, it still has not passed Congress.

ENDA is expected to be reintroduced in both the House and Senate any day now. We’ll keep you posted!

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