Labor & Employment Law

Small town rallies in support of lesbian police chief after mayor fires her

The newly elected mayor of Latta, South Carolina, fired the town’s police chief shortly after his February election, claiming that 23-year member of the force Crystal Moore had questioned authority and failed to maintain order at a town council meeting, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Mayor Earl Bullard denied that it had anything to do with Moore’s sexual orientation; Moore is openly lesbian. But soon after, a voice recording made in March by a town council member suggested another story. The Charleston City Paper posted the sound clip, and the transcript of the call.

“I would much rather have—and I will say this to anybody’s face—somebody who drank and drank too much take care of my children than I had somebody whose lifestyle is questionable around children. Because that ain’t the damned way it’s supposed to be,” the mayor told councilman Jarrett Taylor, in a telephone conversation in which Taylor asked whether he was bigoted or prejudiced against Moore.

The mayor added, “I’m not going to let two women stand up there and hold hands and let my child be aware of it. And I’m not going to see them do it with two men neither. I’m not gonna do it, because that ain’t the way the world works.”

Within hours of Moore’s firing, more than 100 people in the town of 1,350 held a silent vigil to support her. More than 200, some with protest signs, attended an emergency town council meeting last week to demand she be re-hired. Two petitions calling for her return each garnered more than 500 signatures. A Facebook page and Twitter account named “Stand with Chief Moore” have been set up, along with an online donation page.

The town council gave Moore a 6-0 vote of confidence and set a referendum for June 24 to relieve the mayor of firing authority and give it to the council, a majority of which wants to bring her back. They also voted to block the mayor from hiring a replacement police chief until after the voters decide on the referendum, according to the Morning News.

Mayor Bullard has been declining press calls recently, but in a television news interview with WPDE shortly after the firing he said, “They say I fired her because of her sexuality, and nothing could be farther from the truth. … I have never fired an employee that it wasn’t justified. And that it wasn’t in the best interest of those I served. I try to treat everybody the same.”

Moore’s lawyer, M. Malissa Burnette, told the Times that she has requested a grievance procedure to seek Moore’s rehiring, saying, “We’ll give the mayor a chance to make it right, bless his heart.”

State Rep. James Smith has proposed legislation banning employers from firing people because of their sexual orientation, the Times reports. South Carolina is currently one of 29 states in which it is legal to fire someone for their sexual orientation, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

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