Bikini Orders Said to Have Come From Village Board

East Hampton Village’s assistant beach managers said the Main Beach staff’s whole summer had been ruined because the village board decided on a new swimsuit policy based on the complaints of just two people. Carissa Katz

Three East Hampton Village assistant beach managers resigned in protest last Thursday, the day a report on female lifeguards allegations of sexual harassment was made public in The East Hampton Star. 

The allegations, in a letter written by the lifeguards and confirmed by Becky Molinaro Hansen, the village administrator, stemmed from incidents in which the beach managers had asked the women to model bikinis chosen as new uniforms, and in one instance to pose for a photo to determine whether the suits were too skimpy. Ms. Hansen’s report concluded that the managers’ conduct had not risen to the level of sexual harassment.

In a joint interview on Sunday, James Nicoletti, Robert Barber, and Ed McDonald, the managers, said there had been no inappropriate conduct on their part during the swimsuit selection process. The catalyst for their resignations, they said, were statements by Ms. Hansen that blamed the beach managers for the controversy rather than criticizing the village board, which had insisted on changing the bathing suits against their advice.

“We really do feel like we have been made the scapegoats for a decision that was made without proper thought,” Mr. McDonald said. “We were demanded to do this, and ended up the victims of it.” 

Mr. Nicoletti, an assistant manager for 10 years, said on Sunday that he sympathized with the lifeguards’ resistance to changing uniforms. “We may think the bathing suits are smaller than they should be. However, they are the same bathing suits they’ve worn for the last three years, they’re the same ones that basically every other female lifeguard in the country wears, and now to tell them all your colleagues in East Hampton Town can wear these, but you have to wear these other things. I get it,” he said.

Richard Lawler, a village trustee and deputy mayor, said on Tuesday that he had conveyed a village board directive, which was based on complaints from two residents that the female lifeguards’ swimsuits were inappropriate. “From the board’s perspective, it was a simple request to change a uniform,” he said. “That’s all that it ever was, and that’s all that it should have been.”

At the beginning of the season, Mr. McDonald, who has worked at Main Beach both as a lifeguard and a manager for 36 years, said he told Mr. Lawler that the board should refrain from asking for the change because it would have a negative impact on morale. “Lifeguards are a difficult group to manage, and I knew this issue would be difficult,” he said.

At the end of July, after bikinis with more coverage arrived and the female lifeguards said they disliked them, Mr. Nicoletti said he and Mr. McDonald tried once again to dissuade the board from making the change this season. “Ed and I got in my truck, went up to Village Hall, met with the village administrator, and made one last plea,” he said. “Please talk to the trustees and get them to back off on this policy. Let’s wait until next year. Let’s get this right.”

“The guards were angry about this whole thing,” Mr. McDonald added. “You could feel the tension in the air; we were kind of losing control a little bit.” 

Nevertheless, the request for the change persisted.

“The village administrator told us, ‘No, this is what the board wants, this policy is to go forward,’ ” Mr. Nicoletti said. “My regret is that at that meeting I didn’t resign, because I was leaving at the end of the year anyway.”

Mr. McDonald said he too had planned to retire after this summer, but Mr. Barber said he made the decision to quit only after The Star published some of Ms. Hansen’s report, which said the swimsuit selection process “should have been handled better” by the beach managers. All three men were dismayed by the village board’s response to the controversy.

“It would have been nice if, at the culmination of the investigation, they could have shared that with us, before the publication of their findings,” Mr. Barber said. “That is where you might have had a chance to comment instead of being blindsided.”

Mr. Nicoletti said he felt “thrown under the bus” by the report. “I fully expected a comment from Village Hall to be something along the lines of, ‘We directed the beach managers to get new swimsuits for our female lifeguards. They complied with our wishes. They did absolutely nothing inappropriate.’ Done,” he said. 

The day the Star article was published, the managers asked Ms. Hansen to meet them at Main Beach. “I wanted Village Hall to say, ‘We’re sorry this came out the way it did,’ and ‘We value you guys so much, we know you didn’t do anything inappropriate,’ ” Mr. Nicoletti said. “Instead we got Becky not coming down to talk, and one trustee showing up basically with an attitude.”  

Mr. McDonald said the Main Beach staff’s whole summer had been ruined because the village board decided on a new swimsuit policy based on the complaints of just two people. “The village board made a mistake, and they tried to cover their butt and blame it on mismanagement,” he said.