Boxers, Briefs or Speedos? None of the Above, Says Lifeguard in Lawsuit Over Long Island Swimsuit Rules

Roy Lester says he was dismissed for refusing to take off his swim jammers.

ByABC News
August 18, 2011, 1:05 PM

Aug. 18, 2011— -- A 61-year-old lifeguard is suing New York for age discrimination because he wasn't allowed to wear his preferred swimsuit during an annual qualification test.

Roy Lester of Long Beach, N.Y., has always worn swim jammers, tight shorts that end a couple inches above the knee. But in 2007, when he showed up to complete his re-hire evaluation at Jones Beach on Long Island, he says, the New York Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation didn't allow him to take the test.

The swimsuit regulations on the state parks department website say all lifeguards taking the qualifying test for Long Island beaches must wear boxers, briefs or board shorts, a regulation, Lester says, he had never encountered until 2007.

"The older you get, the less skin you should show," said Lester, who had been a lifeguard on Jones Beach for decades. "Basically, the state's been trying to get rid of the older guys. They really don't like older lifeguards."

Lester said the jammers had never been a problem in the past during the re-hire test. Neither board shorts nor boxers are an option, he said, because they inhibit speed, a key component of the timed test.

To qualify as a Long Island lifeguard, candidates must swim 100 yards in 75 seconds or less, in addition to taking three other timed tests.

Lester, who has completed triathlons in his jammers, recently came in second during this year's National Lifeguard Championships.

To maintain speed during the re-hire test, his only other option, he said, would be the revealing Speedo, a swimsuit he refuses to wear.

"Older people … prefer a more modest swimsuit and thank goodness they do," he said. "There's a thing called aging and there's a thing called aging gracefully."

The parks department said it cannot comment on pending litigation, but spokesman Dan Keefe said, "I can say we do not discriminate based on age."

Lester said other older lifeguards on Long Island want to wear jammers, too, but "I was the only one who stood up."

"I have three kids," he said. "I cannot talk the talk and not walk the walk."

As a result, he says he lost his post as chief negotiator of the lifeguard union at Jones Beach because he's now working for a private beach.

Lester's 2007 complaint was investigated by the New York State Division of Human Rights, according to an agency document. The agency dismissed the claim that year, saying there was "no probable cause" to believe the parks office engaged in discriminatory hiring practices.