Harrison County

Man who sued Gulfport over dreadlocks has taken previous employers to court

Larry Christmas Jr. is suing the city of Gulfport, Miss., because he says he was told he couldn’t be a firefighter unless he cut his dreadlocks.
Larry Christmas Jr. is suing the city of Gulfport, Miss., because he says he was told he couldn’t be a firefighter unless he cut his dreadlocks. SUN HERALD

A Pascagoula man who sued the city, claiming the Fire Department denied him a job because of his dreadlocks, has filed three other discrimination lawsuits against employers, federal court records show.

Federal judges dismissed the two oldest cases that Larry D. Christmas Jr. 37, lodged against employers, alleging discrimination and other wrongdoing.

In addition, Christmas filed lawsuits against the city of Gulfport and D&G Foods LLC eight days apart in December 2015 in U.S. District Court. Those two cases are still pending. In both, Christmas represents himself, seeks $2.5 million in damages and claims he was discriminated against because he is black.

Christmas filed his first workplace discrimination lawsuit in August 2004, alleging harassment and discrimination, after he was fired from Polk's Meat Products Inc. in Magee. The court file shows his trouble on the job started almost immediately. Christmas went to work at Polk's in mid-September 2004 and, by October 2004, claimed a female supervisor was sexually harassing him.

He also said three white maintenance workers were assigned to day shifts while he worked nights. Christmas also claimed he was underpaid because he is black.

Christmas filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. An EEOC letter in December 2004, included in the court file, indicates he retracted the sexual harassment complaint and apologized. Christmas later maintained the accusation was valid.

In January 2005, Polk's fired Christmas for failing to calibrate a meat thermometer, the file says. He filed his lawsuit in August 2005 in U.S. District Court in Jackson. Judge Henry Wingate dismissed the complaint in January 2007, noting Christmas had failed to communicate with the court or respond to court orders even after he was warned the case would be dismissed if he did not comply.

Suit against Ingalls

Christmas started work at what was then known as Huntington Ingalls shipyard in Pascagoula the same month his case against Polk's was dismissed. By August 2007, court records show, he had been promoted from journeyman to design engineer. He was working as senior systems engineer when trouble started in December 2008, the court file indicates. According to Ingalls, he failed to report the status of his work or his work schedule to a female supervisor.

When asked about the issues by another supervisor, Christmas allegedly responded, "I didn't start the problem, but I can end it."

By March 2009, Ingalls had suspended him for violating company policies, according to the court file. He returned to work the next month in a different department, but stopped showing up in May 2009 due to "stress and anxiety," the file says. Ingalls maintained Christmas failed to provide sufficient medical excuses for missing work, even after his deadline was extended.

Court records show Ingalls fired Christmas when he returned to work July 8, 2009 -- the second deadline for documenting his medical problems -- without the required paperwork.

Christmas sued Ingalls in September 2010 in U.S. District Court in Gulfport, alleging racial discrimination and retaliation for speaking up. Almost two years later, Judge Louis Guirola dismissed the case, finding Ingalls had legitimate reasons for firing Christmas. Guirola also noted that, even though Christmas was represented by an attorney, he failed to respond to motions filed by Ingalls.

Gulfport lawsuit

Christmas interviewed for a job with the city of Gulfport in the July 2014, but was not hired in the first round of recruits over the summer. Instead, he went to work the same month at DG Foods LLC in Hazlehurst as a maintenance technician. He said he was moved to a less desirable shift when a white male was hired in August, paid less than whites and mistreated, court records show.

About six months later, he said, he resigned in writing due to a hostile work environment and retaliation. When he submitted his letter, Christmas said, he was called in and fired.

The Gulfport Fire Department called Christmas for a second interview in December 2014. During the hiring process, Fire Department supervisors mentioned more than once that for safety reasons Christmas would have to cut off the dreadlocks he wore down to the middle of his back. He got the job.

But Christmas, who now works as an elevator mechanic, told the Sun Herald in an interview last week that he was unwilling to cut off his dreadlocks. He said he sees them as an expression of his African-American heritage and his adoption of customs from the Rastafarian religion.

Christmas did not show up for his employee evaluation or physical exam. He sued the city Dec. 15, 2015, claiming racial discrimination. On Dec. 23, he sued DG Foods, claiming racial discrimination and retaliation.

The DG case is pending before Judge Wingate, while Judge Guirola has been assigned to the Gulfport case.

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