Mississippi resident Larry Christmas Jr. claims his dreadlocks were the reason the Gulf Port Fire Department didn’t hire him, and he’s filed a $2.5 million racial discrimination lawsuit.
Christmas says he applied for a firefighter position in the summer of 2014. Christmas was asked to come in for a second interview with Chief Mike Beyerstedt in December 2014. Christmas claims that Beyerstedt warned that his hair would be a safety risk and that he would have to cut his long dreadlocks before participating in a February 2015 physical and firefighters orientation.
Christmas said he aced his physical agility test and compensated for his long hair by tucking his dreadlocks under his helmet. The 37-year-old, however, was a no-show during the February orientation and physical test.
He was unwilling to cut off his dreadlocks, which reach his midriff, Christmas said, because they are an expression of his African-American heritage and his Rastafarian religion.
Court filings show that Christmas claims he suffered “great mental distress, depression, physical injury, humiliation and anguish” after losing the firefighter job. Christmas also claims that the Gulf Port Fire Department hired white candidates who had lower physical and written test scores than he had.
Christmas currently works as an elevator technician, and said he wouldn’t feel safe working at the Gulf Port Fire Department after the two year controversy.
Gulfport city officials have not responded to Christmas’ lawsuit.