Clayton County spent $210,000 to fight LGBTQ rights case

Clayton County taxpayers footed the nearly $210,000 bill to pay an outside law firm to argue against LGBTQ workers in a case that reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

Atlanta-based firm Freeman Mathis & Gary has put in over 1,000 hours on the Gerald Bostock case since being hired by the county in 2013, according to a review of invoices by Project Q Atlanta. The city provided nearly 150 pages of invoices from Freeman Mathis & Gary through an Open Records Act request. The firm bills the county $195 per hour for its work.

Freeman Mathis & Gary also hired a law firm with close ties to President Donald Trump to argue against Bostock (photo) in the Supreme Court.

Bostock claims that Clayton County fired him from his job as a child welfare services coordinator in 2013 after finding out he joined the Hotlanta Softball League, an LGBTQ sports organization. His case was one of three that the U.S. Supreme Court considered at a hearing Tuesday to decide whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 extends workplace protections to LGBTQ people.

Greg Nevins, senior counsel at Lambda Legal’s Southern Regional Office in Atlanta, sat in court during Tuesday’s hearing. Clayton County went “beyond the pale” in its actions in the Bostock case, according to Nevins.

“It’s the Clayton County taxpayers’ money,” he told Project Q Atlanta. “It’s one thing if you defend against lawsuits — that’s something the residents of the county would expect you to do. But they wouldn’t expect you to necessarily pull out all the stops to make sure that sexual orientation would not be covered by Title VII.”

He represented an Atlanta woman who claimed a Savannah hospital fired her for being gay in 2013, but the Supreme Court refused to hear the case. 

A Clayton County spokesperson did not respond to Project Q’s questions about the case and the law firm’s charges.

Clayton redacts case details

 

Clayton County hired Freeman Mathis & Gary after Bostock filed his Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint in 2013, according to the invoices. The firm filed invoices under “EEOC Charge of Gerald Bostock” for about $3,000 of work between 2013 and early 2016.

Then Bostock sued the county later in 2016. Freeman Mathis & Gary charged about $23,000 for work while the case was in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, which dismissed the case in 2017.

Bostock then appealed to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. A three-judge panel ruled against him in May 2018. Bostock appealed and asked for the case to be heard before the full 11-judge panel, and that was denied in July 2018. Freeman Mathis & Gary charged the county about $16,200 for work during the 11th Circuit Court phase.

Then Bostock asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take up his case. Freeman Mathis & Gary filed a petition with the court in August 2018 arguing that Bostock was advancing “novel legal theories” and that the court should ignore a split in lower court rulings on the matter. The U.S. Supreme Court announced in April 2019 that it would take up Bostock’s case. Freeman Mathis & Gary charged the county $26,400 for work during this phase.

The law firm’s charges increased dramatically as the case neared Tuesday’s hearing in the Supreme Court. It billed $2,800 in May, $9,500 in June, $9,400 in July, $45,400 in August and $80,000 in September, according to the invoices. 

The county redacted all information in the invoices (second photo) about the nature of the work that the law firm performed. The information fell under “attorney-client privileged documents and work product document,” according to Patricia White, records retention specialist for the county. The invoices only listed the hours billed, which attorneys billed them and the charges for those hours.

Jack Hancock, Freeman Mathis & Gary’s lead attorney in the Bostock case, did not respond to Project Q’s questions about the case.

Former lawmakers resurface at firm

 

Freeman Mathis & Gary has over 160 attorneys in 18 offices in nine states, according to its website. The national litigation firm has grown quickly since opening its Atlanta office in 2013, according to the Daily Report.

Two of those recent hires were former state lawmakers who frequently found themselves in the middle of major LGBTQ rights battles under the Gold Dome — Wendell Willard and Beth Beskin. 

Willard (third photo) was chair of the powerful House Judiciary Committee, which often vetted any anti-LGBTQ “religious freedom” legislation before it could make it to the full House for a vote. Willard, a Republican who was also city attorney for Sandy Springs, avoided taking up such legislation when he could. He also sponsored an LGBTQ-inclusive hate crimes bill in 2018. 

Willard retired from political life that year and joined Freeman Mathis & Gary. 

Beskin had an uneven record on LGBTQ issues during her time representing House District 54 in Buckhead from 2015 to 2019. She proposed an amendment cutting LGBTQ people from a public accommodations bill in 2016, claiming it was the only way to get the bill passed while still including sex as a protected class. She sometimes fought “religious freedom” legislation, and was just one of 10 House Republicans to vote against such a bill in 2016. But she voted for such a bill in a House subcommittee in 2015.

Beskin was named a partner at Freeman Mathis & Gary in September, according to the Marietta Daily Journal.

Neither Willard or Beskin responded to Project Q’s questions about whether they had any issue with the firm fighting against LGBTQ employment protections in the case.

Trump tied to second firm

 

Freeman Mathis & Gary hired the law firm of Consovoy McCarthy to argue against Bostock in the Supreme Court hearing, according to the National Law Journal. Consovoy McCarthy, a 12-lawyer boutique firm with offices in Boston and Washington, D.C., represented Trump in several appellate cases challenging the U.S. House of Representatives’ subpoenas of Trump’s financial records. The firm also filed an amicus brief in support of Trump’s Muslim travel ban in 2018, according to Reuters.

Trump also appointed former Consovoy McCarthy partner Michael Park to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in 2018, according to the National Law Journal.

Consovoy McCarthy partner Jeffrey Harris, who argued the case alongside William Consovoy in Tuesday’s hearing, did not respond to Project Q’s questions about how the firm was picked for the case.

UPDATE | Wendell Willard sent a statement to Project Q after this story was published saying he did not work on the Bostock case and that he's fine with LGBTQ people being given Title VII protections.

"As attorneys, we are advocates for clients," he said. "I was not personally involved with the case under review, and am only familiar with the case and facts from what I’ve read in papers. My understanding is the firm and Jack Hancock have been counsel for the county for a long time; not just for this case."

"I personally don’t have an issue with Title VII protection being afforded to LGBTQ persons," he added.