Calif. lifeguard challenges requirement to raise Pride flag at his job site

Jeffrey Little, a Los Angeles County lifeguard captain, is suing for an exemption from raising the Progress Pride Flag at his work site. Photo courtesy of Thomas More Society
Jeffrey Little, a Los Angeles County lifeguard captain, is suing for an exemption from raising the Progress Pride Flag at his work site. Photo courtesy of Thomas More Society

June 11 (UPI) -- A California lifeguard who filed a lawsuit that challenges a requirement to raise a flag that represents the LGBTQ+ community has been granted a partial exemption from that mandate, but says he is not dropping the legal action.

Jeffrey Little, a captain in the Lifeguard Division of the Los Angeles County Fire Department, says in the suit that personally raising a Progress Pride flag at his station would be espousing and promoting messages contrary to his religious beliefs as an evangelical Christian.


He alleges the requirement violates federal and state law and his First Amendment rights to free speech and the free exercise of religion.

Little's suit, filed May 24 -- just before Pride Month began -- in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, seeks a standing exemption from raising or lowering the flag from any work site or ordering others to do so, whether in June or any other month, for the entirety of his employment.


The county Fire Department and three of its officials are named as defendants. The department said does not comment on personnel issues or ongoing litigation, according to its public information office.

The Fire Department issued assurances last week that Little will not be personally responsible for the raising or lowering of the Progress Pride flag as part of his job for the remainder of June, according to attorney Paul Jonna, special counsel for the Thomas More Society, a public interest law firm that represents the lifeguard captain.

However, the department insisted that Little must still ensure his subordinates comply with the requirement and that he will need to renew his request for a religious accommodation every year, Jonna said Monday.

Wants reasonable accommodation

He pointed out Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires employers to reasonably accommodate the religious practices of their employees unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer.

The easiest accommodation is to relocate Little to a spot that's not flying the flag, Jonna said, adding, "The burden on the employer for providing the accommodation doesn't even exist."

The case will continue until the constitutional rights of Little and others like him are fully vindicated, Jonna said.


"My understanding is that there are quite a few lifeguards and quite a few other fire department personnel and other county employees who object to these mandates, and there have been several accommodation requests made to the county, in addition to Capt. Little's," he said.

Under a resolution approved in March 2023 by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, all county-operated facilities are required to fly the Progress Pride Flag in June, which is recognized as LGBTQ+ Pride month. Sites that do not have adequate flagpoles and flag clasps available to mount the Pride flag are exempted.

The Progress Pride Flag has iconic rainbow stripes of red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet. In addition, black and brown stripes represent LBGTQ+ communities of color, and the light blue, pink and white stripes from the Transgender Pride Flag that are in a chevron shape to represent a need for forward movement, according to the board's resolution.

Moved to another site

At Little's request, Fire Department officials agreed in June 2023 to move him to a site at which the Progress Pride Flag was not flying and to not require him to raise the flag or ensure that someone else raise the flag, the suit says.


But two days later, before Little arrived at his assigned job area, a section chief allegedly ordered lifeguards at three subareas to raise the flags. Little took down the flags and his accommodation was revoked after that, the suit says.

Since then, L.A. County Fire Department personnel have engaged in retaliation and harassment against Little, who has worked as a lifeguard for more than 22 years, the suit alleges.

"My hope is that this lawsuit encourages productive dialogue between employees of faith and their employers," Little said in a news release. "No employee should be expected to abandon their faith when entering the workplace and unfortunately, I felt backed into a corner where my faith was incompatible with the requirements of my job."

Pride flags have been controversial across the nation.

In Michigan, two members of the Hamtramck Human Relations Commission sued the city after they were removed from their positions last year for raising a Pride flag on a city-owned flagpole.

The Hamtramck City Council unanimously passed a resolution in June 2023 that barred any religious, ethnic, racial, political or sexual orientation group flags from being flown on public properties. The resolution said the city did not want to "open the door for radical or racist groups to ask for their flags to be flown."


On July 9, 2023, Human Relations Commission members Russ Gordon and Cathy Stackpoole raised the Pride flag on a pole on Joseph Compau Avenue. Police took the flag down, and two days later, the City Council passed two resolutions -- one removing the two from the commission and the other rescinding the authority of the commission to maintain and fly flags on city property.

Constitutional rights cited

Gordon and Stackpoole filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, alleging violations of their constitutional rights under the First Amendment and seeking orders rescinding the resolutions.

In Colorado, a father alleged that Denver Public Schools engaged in "blatant discrimination" against heterosexual students by allowing Pride flags to be displayed beside classroom doors, but not providing the choice to hang flags that represent his children's sexual orientation.

Nathan Feldman says in a suit filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado that he does not take issue with the Pride Flag displays, but simply wants to provide a straight pride flag for display in front of his children's classroom at Slavens School.

The flag he wants displayed has the male and female gender symbols on it. District officials and teachers have disregarded or refused Feldman's request to hang the flag, the suit alleges.


"DPS' LGBTQ Policy discriminates against students by way of only vesting the right and choice to display flags that inherently and definitionally include some students and exclude other students on the basis of sex," the suit says.

Feldman, who alleges he and his children "have experienced, and will continue to experience, irreparable harm, mental anguish, pain, suffering, and other pecuniary and non-economic losses," is seeking at least $3 million in damages.

Latest Headlines