Christian lifeguard doesn’t have to raise the Pride flag. But he objects to making subordinates do it

A lifeguard station draped in rainbow colors
Jeffrey Little, an evangelical Christian, sued the county for religious discrimination a week before Pride Month kicked off.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)
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An evangelical Christian lifeguard said that Los Angeles County officials have given him a “partial” concession in his quest to avoid hoisting the Pride flag at the beach this month.

In a Wednesday legal filing, attorneys for longtime county lifeguard Jeffrey Little said their client was told on May 31, the day before Pride Month began, that he would receive a “partial religious accommodation” and “would not be personally responsible for raising or lowering” the flag.

But as a captain, Little will still have to make sure that his subordinates hoist the flag, a job requirement that his attorneys said would “violate his sincere religious beliefs.”


The change from the county fire department comes a week after Little sued in federal court, accusing his bosses of religious discrimination by making him work near the Progress Pride flag last summer and punishing him for taking three of the flags down. The county board of supervisors voted last year to require that many government buildings — including lifeguard facilities — fly the rainbow flag, which has extra stripes representing people of color and transgender and nonbinary people, throughout Pride month.

The order, Little argued in the lawsuit, was in “direct conflict” with his “traditional Christian beliefs regarding the moral illicitness of same-sex activity, the immutability of sex regardless of gender identity, and the view that all people are children of God regardless of their skin color.”

Last year, some county lifeguard stations didn’t fly the Pride flags because they didn’t have the right flagpoles to hold both that flag and the U.S. flag, according to the lawsuit. Little had asked last summer to work at one of these facilities, a request he said was ultimately denied. He asked again for similar accommodations this year but said the county stonewalled the request, leading him to sue the L.A. County Fire Department as well as three higher-ups in the department’s lifeguard division.

The fire department, which does not typically comment on pending litigation, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Little has been a county lifeguard for more than 22 years and made $210,000 last year.

The lawsuit, filed by longtime lifeguard Jeffrey Little, accuses L.A. County of religious discrimination for requiring him to work at lifeguard tower near a Pride flag last summer.

May 29, 2024

Last weekend, Little walked the beach with a fire chief and confirmed that the beaches where he would be spending most of his week — Nicholas Beach, Point Dume Beach and Malibu Beach — did not have the right flagpoles to fly the Pride flag, according to the Wednesday declaration. However, the headquarters at Zuma Beach, where he would work one day a week, did have the appropriate flagpole.

Though Little would not be responsible for flying the flag, the department’s risk management staff told him that he would still have to ensure that his subordinates keep the flag raised, the declaration said. The fire department’s policy states that all captains must make sure the flag is flown throughout June.


Little’s attorneys argued that he isn’t the only one who has taken issue with the requirements.

“My office is informed that the Fire Department has received possibly hundreds of additional religious accommodation requests similar in nature to Captain Little’s, and that a protest might be planned,” wrote Paul Jonna, who is representing Little and is special counsel for the Thomas More Society, a conservative Catholic legal organization best known for challenging abortion rights.

A county spokesperson said Wednesday that this was inaccurate and that the county had received “less than a dozen” requests for exemptions related to the Pride flag countywide.

Still, the fire department appeared braced for pushback this Pride month. On May 30, Fire Chief Anthony Marrone sent a note to his staff outlining the protocols around raising the flag.

“Last year we faced challenges with compliance at several Department facilities,” he said. “I want to be intentional and clear that compliance is not optional.”