Georgica Beach in East Hampton Village was closed to swimming over Labor Day weekend.
As you may know, the Village of Southampton has strict rules about what you can wear or not wear in public there. Signs are sprinkled around the village reminding you of those rules. On Main Street, correct apparel is required. There are other rules for elsewhere. These rules have been on the books since the 1880s, at a time when, if women went in the water, they wore “bathing costumes.” Things were pretty prudish then.
Enforcement is now lax. But the rule remains.
Now this may have had something to do with what happened in East Hampton. But maybe not.
Three months ago, just a day after the big Memorial Day weekend, one of the village trustees suggested at a meeting that the female lifeguards at the village beaches wear less-revealing bikinis. A conversation ensued. The female lifeguards are mostly high school age, though some are older. The red bikinis with the badges on them are the official uniforms for the lifeguards. The boys wear just the bottoms. The girls both tops and bottoms.
But times have changed. Maybe the Village, which pays for the bathing suits, should provide bathing suits, for the girls anyway, that were less revealing.
In the end, the Village decided a change should be made. The female lifeguard themselves could pick the new ones out.
What could go wrong?
The female lifeguards reviewed photos and descriptions of different suits and pointed out what they thought would work. They showed their choice to the chief manager. And so these new bathing suits were ordered. It was reported by The East Hampton Star.
The bathing suits came and the managers were not happy with them. One senior lifeguard called them “Brazilian.” At this point, the Star reported, according to lifeguard Christina Cangiolosi, one of the female lifeguards was asked to pose wearing this suit and a picture of her in it was taken by a female manager on her cellphone. The managers eventually decided the new suits would not work. The board would never approve them.
Instead, they’d have to buy a different bathing suit. And this time they would pick it out themselves. They picked out another two-piece that had fuller coverage.
When these replacement suits came, the managers reportedly asked the female lifeguards to try them on. According to the Star, Cangiolosi said they were asked by a secretary if any of them would try them on and be photographed wearing them. A beach manager, Jim Nicoletti, denies this, saying that the managers only wanted to see how these larger two-piece bathing suits fit in terms of how they might work out doing lifeguarding.
The lifeguards are always on the move at the village’s beaches. Sand would get into them. Indeed, both the female lifeguards and the managers did not like these replacement suits.
Cangiolosi reportedly said she wondered why there was now all this focus on suits, the Star wrote. The female lifeguards later said they felt they had been asked to do “modeling” for the managers, and considered the situation demoralizing and a hostile workplace.
Nicoletti said he went to the Village Trustees when the replacement suits came in and asked them to postpone the selecting of new suits until next year. The female lifeguards had been issued the usual bikini suits they’d worn every year, he says. They were wearing them, by this time, for nearly a month. That they were asked to change suits in the middle of the season was confusing.
According to Nicoletti, the Village Trustees told him to go ahead with the change anyway. Nicoletti also said later he tried a second time to get them to put this off to next year with the same result. He thought it was getting in the way of the work, too.
The female lifeguards did wear them for about a week. They got in the way of the work. And sand got in them. They seemed more like a suit you’d wear at a swimming pool. By this time, they had switched back to the original suits they had been issued before Memorial Day.
As a result of all this, Cangiolosi met with the other female lifeguards and they agreed to write a letter to the Village Board. In it, the female lifeguards accused the managers of harassment and the creation of a hostile work environment. There was also the claim that one of the managers told the girls they would be fired if they didn’t wear the new suits.
The girls also decided that, since their direct report was to the managers, they would show the letter to the managers before sending it in. A meeting then took place between the female lifeguards and several of the managers. The managers said that the letter would not be accepted as it was written, according to the Star, and eventually a version of it was delivered to Village Hall.
The Village of East Hampton has a longtime mayor, Paul Rickenback. But for most day-to-day matters, there is a full-time Village Administrator named Becky Molinaro Hansen, and it was she who investigated the whole matter.
Over the next six weeks, Ms. Molinaro Hansen examined the documents and interviewed nine employees and in the end wrote a report she presented to the Village Board at a meeting on August 17. In it she noted that the Board had never asked to see any photograph of a lifeguard in the bikini, she said she believed the image of the girl in the “Brazilian” bikini was taken on the cellphone in a light-hearted way, that it was deleted, and that it was her conclusion that the investigation did not reveal sufficient evidence to result in a charge of sexual harassment. She also concluded that the swimsuit matter “should have been handled better” by the managers. She also said she would have the managers undergoing supplemental training.
At the August 17 meeting, the contents of the letter were not made available to the press, and, as a result, the editors of The East Hampton Star made a Freedom of Information (FOIL) request, which resulted in their quickly getting the letter and publishing a full account of what happened in their issue of August 30.
It seems there were enough lifeguards and managers on staff before August 30 to man the village beaches but afterward, three lifeguard managers, without notice, quit their jobs, including Jim Nicoletti in disgust.
And that’s why for Labor Day weekend, because of the resignations and the usual going-back-to college depletion of the older guards, no lifeguards were available to be on duty to protect people going in the water at Georgica.
As for Jim Nicoletti, he says he quit because of an editorial written in the Star that accompanied the article.
“I had gone to bat twice to get the Village to postpone the new suits because they upset the female lifeguards,” he told me. “We had photographed a female guard wearing the first suit because the chief wasn’t there when the suits came in and we were packing them up to send them back and we wanted him to see why.
He then did come in, so we deleted the picture because it wasn’t needed. There never was a second photo or any other request for a photo. Ms. Cangiolosi might have thought we were going to ask her. We weren’t. I certainly understood she was feeling uncomfortable.
“The Star wrote in its editorial we were taking photos of the female lifeguards for our amusement all over the place. We never did that that. I called back their reporter. I told their reporter there was the one photo and what it was for and they blew it all up in an editorial into something we need further punishment for. I’ve been a teacher and coach here for 30 years, now at the beach for 10 as a manager. When I read that, I quit.”