An applicant to the Gulfport Fire Department who was told he would have to cut his dreadlocks before he could start last year, has filed suit claiming race discrimination.
Larry Christmas Jr. claims he passed the written and agility tests necessary to start the Gulfport Fire Department in February 2015, but was ordered to cut his dreadlocks before he could proceed to a physical exam and an orientation session. Christmas, who is African American, filed suit in federal court claiming the city’s position on dreadlocks constitutes race discrimination.
The suit was filed by Christmas pro se (without an attorney) last December, and was amended earlier this month. The original complaint named the city, but the amended complaint names the city and Fire Chief Michael Beyerstedt. Both pleadings appear to allege race discrimination, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent infliction of emotional distress, although they could certainly benefit from guidance from an attorney.
In an interview with Christmas, he claims he was passed over for an earlier hiring with Gulfport FD even though he had “aced” the examination and done “drastically well”. He said after his oral interview he was told “They never had an interview of such.”
Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.