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Boxers or briefs? Neither, lifeguard says in discrimination suit

August 19, 2011 |  1:35 pm

Rehoboth Beach in Delaware
Boxers or briefs?

Neither, according to a lawsuit that claims a New York lifeguard with decades of experience lost his job because he refused to wear an itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny bikini-style swimsuit for the annual swim test. Roy Lester, who is now 61, filed his lawsuit in 2009. It was initially dismissed, but last week an appellate court reinstated it.

While the case is drawling chuckles, Lester, a triathlete with more than 40 years experience lifeguarding, says it underscores a serious issue: age discrimination. His lawsuit alleges that state parks officials were trying to drum out older lifeguards when his swimsuit choice -- tight-fitting shorts that reach nearly to the knee -- were given the thumbs-down.

"I wore a Speedo when I was in my 20s," Lester said, according to the New York Daily News. "But come on. There should be a law prohibiting anyone over the age of 50 from wearing a Speedo."

"Basically, the state's been trying to get rid of the older guys. They really don't like older lifeguards," Lester told ABC News, saying he was fired from his job working the white sands of Jones Beach on Long Island in 2007. He had worked there each summer for decades and showed up to take the annual swim test in his normal swimwear. When he refused to change into a Speedo, he was fired, according to the suit. He returned in 2008 and faced the same problem.

"Older people … prefer a more modest swimsuit and thank goodness they do," said Lester, who is a bankruptcy lawyer by profession, in that interview. "There's a thing called aging and there's a thing called aging gracefully."

Officials of the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, which oversees lifeguard hires, denied age discrimination and noted that there are several lifeguards over age 40 working the beaches of Long Island.

The annual test requires male guard candidates to complete a 100-yard swim in 75 seconds and, according to current rules, wear boxers, briefs or board shorts. But according to Lester's lawsuit, when he went for his renewal test he wasn't given such an option. Females are required to wear a "standard one piece or two piece bathing suit," the rules say.

"I could have passed that test in dungarees," Lester told the Daily News. He's since found a lifeguarding job at a private beach.


Beach tunnels deemed a threat

Newport Beach lifegurds face pension cuts

Smithsonian gets Farrah Fawcett's red swimsuit

--Tina Susman in New York

Photo: What matters more: the ability to save a swimmer or the lifeguard's willingness to wear an extremely small swimsuit? The question may resonate beyond the New York case that prompted it. Here, crowded Rehoboth Beach in Delaware. Credit: Associated Press