Gulfport FD and Chief Dismissed from Dreadlocks Suit

The Gulfport Fire Department and Gulfport Fire Chief Mike Beyerstedt have been dismissed from a race discrimination suit brought by an applicant who refused to cut his dreadlocks as a condition of attending the fire academy.

Larry Christmas Jr. filed suit in federal court last December accusing the city, the fire department and Chief Beyerstedt of race discrimination. Christmas claims he passed the written and agility tests necessary but was ordered to cut his dreadlocks. Christmas, who is African American, claims that was discriminatory.

According to the Sun Sentinal, Christmas has filed at least 3 other discrimination suits against former employers, two of which have been dismissed. The US District Court record lists a civil rights suit Christmas filed against DG Foods, LLC a few days he sued Gulfport. It also lists a suit he filed in 2010 against Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding alleging race discrimination. He is currently serving as his own attorney.

Last Friday, U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola dismissed the Gulfport Fire Department and Chief Beyerstedt from the suit, stating:

  • the Gulfport Fire Department “is not a proper party because it is not a political subdivision or legal entity in and of itself, but rather is merely a department of the City ”… The Fire Department will be dismissed.
  • The Court further finds that the action against Beyerstadt in his official capacity – which is the only capacity in which he is sued – should be dismissed as redundant of the claims against the City.

Judge Guirola refused to dismiss the city from the suit. Here is a copy of the court’s ruling: June 24 2016 Order

More on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 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, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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