“Holding Clayton County accountable is priceless”

The Clayton County Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday to approve a proposed settlement of more than three quarters of a million dollars with Gerald Bostock, the former head of volunteers for CASA (Court-Appointed Spacial Advocates) who was fired for being gay and whose landmark Supreme Court case now affords employment protection to LGBTQ people across the country.

U.S. Northern District of Georgia Judge Eleanor L. Ross ordered the case administratively closed on October 14 after both sides agreed to work out the settlement.

“This was a landmark decision for LGBTQ+ and human rights in the United States and it’s been our privilege to represent Gerald Bostock,” said attorney Ed Buckley, who, along with Thomas J. Mew IV, argued the case in the Northern District of Georgia after the Supreme Court ruling.

When the case was sent back to the lower court, the legal team did further discovery. They found that the person who fired Bostock, former Juvenile Court Judge Steven Teske, had kept a diary, “in which he discussed the decision to fire Bostock, repeatedly made reference to the fact that Bostock is gay, and further admitted in his deposition that Bostock’s sexual orientation was a contributing factor to his decision to fire him,” according to a press release from the law firm Buckley Beal. Court records that show excerpts from Teske’s diary back the claim in the press release.

Bostock was fired in 2013 after word got around that he was a member of the Hotlanta Softball League, which is an LGBTQ league, and that he had recruited possible CASA volunteers during a tournament. CASA volunteers sit with children during court cases and advocate on behalf of the child’s best interests.

During a press conference Friday, The Clayton Crescent asked Bostock whether he believed that county officials had been worried about having gay men serve as CASA volunteers. A myth that gay men are pedophiles continues in some quarters. Bostock said that he did think that had been a concern.

“My belief from the beginning, and still is my belief, is that yes, Clayton County is, I don’t know if ‘afraid’ is the right term, but definitely uncomfortable with having the members of the LGBTQ+ community come into their court program working with children,” Bostock said, “whether it be from the leadership side of the program, including myself, obviously, all the way to the volunteers. Because I was actively recruiting from the Hotlanta Softball League, and again, my thoughts and my beliefs are that the county was not comfortable with that and did not want to see that happen. I also had concerns about how this would impact the children of that community. Also, the sponsors of not only the program that I was working with, the CASA program, but the sponsors of other programs of the court, if that was the mindset and intention of county officials.”

Bostock was let go after several county officials, including Teske, questioned Bostock’s use of money from one of two funds related to the program. An internal audit failed to find Bostock had stolen any money.

Court documents state that an internal audit “neither stated that Mr. Bostock had engaged in any wrongdoing nor suggested that he should be disciplined. However, it was the auditors’ conclusion that Mr. Bostock had spent funds from the GAL account on activities or events that were not authorized by the MOU, and that the changes they recommended were intended to prevent that from occurring in the future.”

The defense had argued that “direct evidence of discrimination would be testimony showing, for example, that Judge Teske said, “I fired Mr. Bostock because he is gay,” or evidence revealing that Judge Teske made derogatory remarks about gays. There is no such evidence in the record. In other words, there is no evidence that Judge Teske is a homophobe. Instead, the record shows that Judge Teske knew for many years that plaintiff is gay, socialized often with him and his partner, invited plaintiff and his partner to his daughter’s wedding, advocated on behalf of LBGTQ youth, and wrote in his diary that his problem with plaintiff was not his sexual orientation but rather his spending from the GAL account in locations and ways the Judge considered outside the parameters of the MOU.”

Those locations happened to be the softball league and gay or gay-friendly establishments in Midtown Atlanta. Bostock maintained that he had permission to use the funds from a particular account in order to recruit CASA volunteers, and that CASA was in particular need of male volunteers.

Buckley said, “Tom Mew worked this case from the beginning and we’d also like to credit our former partner Brian Sutherland who, along with Tom, framed the case in such a way that the Supreme Court ruled 6 to 3 in favor of finding that discrimination on the basis of sex includes sexual orientation.”

Mew added, “For the last nine years, Gerald has shown great courage and tremendous resolve. I’m proud of our firm’s work on this case and it has been a great honor to represent Gerald.  There’s still much work to be done in the area of LGBTQ+ rights. We have many cases at Buckley Beal where people are able to vindicate their rights due to the trail Gerald’s case blazed and we’re committed to continuing the fight for equality.”

Bostock said the settlement is a great relief after nine years of stressful and expensive court battles.

“I don’t know that I exactly know what ‘normal’ is anymore,” he told reporters. “But I will tell you that, after Washington, and after the opinion was announced the following year in June of 2020, I felt some pressure off my shoulders, and it made a big difference. It helped. It certainly wasn’t the cure-all at the time, because obviously my case was remanded back to the Eleventh Circuit here, so we had to continue, and it was basically like starting over. And so, that constant mental toll, the physical—being tired, not getting good sleep, those things—still continued. But I will tell you, after coming to the agreement with Clayton County, I had the best night’s sleep that I have had in nine years. And I do foresee that continuing. The nightmares have gone away, the quality of sleep is better, obviously my financial situation is improving, has improved, and I am much happier and feel much more and calm now.”

Bostock said the time and money that had gone into preparing for trial can now go into “trying to get an Equality Act passed, working with our elected officials.”

Asked how he sees his place in gay history, Bostock told the AJC’s Leon Stafford, “It’s very humbling. Again, I didn’t ask for this, but I was willing to stand up. But I am proud of the hard work that we, as as team, have been able to accomplish for our community. And that’s priceless. Holding Clayton County accountable is priceless. Again, I’m honored and humbled to have played a role in getting us to this point in history with the opinion that was released by the justices of the United States Supreme Court.”

The Clayton Crescent interviewed Bostock following the Supreme Court decision. Listen to the podcast:

Robin Kemp is executive editor and CEO of The Clayton Crescent, which she founded in 2020. She has worked for Gambit, CNN, The Weather Channel, Clayton News, Henry Herald, and numerous freelance outlets....

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