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Judge Tosses Wrestling Ref's Lawsuit in Dreadlocks Case

Andy Berg

A Superior Court judge has rejected a defamation suit filed by a high school referee who gave a South Jersey wrestler only seconds to choose between having his dreadlocks cut or forfeiting his match in 2018. 

Judge John Porto rejected claims by Alan Maloney that the Buena Regional High School District in Atlantic County breached its duty to him by suspending him after the incident. Porto’s decision comes after the district filed a motion to dismiss back in March. 

The incident in question happened in December 2018 when Andrew Johnson, then a junior at Buena Regional High School, was given 90 seconds to decide whether to cut his dreadlocks. Johnson, 16 at the time, agreed to have several inches of his dreadlocks cut after Maloney told him he could not compete without a hair covering. 

The New Jersey Interscholastic Athletic Association suspended Maloney and barred him from officiating at any meets pend the outcome of investigations. After an investigation by the state Division of Civil Rights, Maloney was suspended and remains suspended. 

According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Maloney’s lawsuit contends the NJSIAA failed to follow due process when it suspended him. His notice of intent to file suit alleged defamation of character and emotional distress and cited a loss of income of $100,000. 

The suit also alleges that Buena wrestling coach Gregory Maxwell and athletic director David Albertson failed to follow rules relating to hair coverings.

In his ruling, Proto found that Maloney, not the school officials, “was in the best position to address what he considered a rules enforcement issue and he did so.” The judge issued an order dropping the lawsuit against Maxwell and Albertson, the sole remaining defendants, barring an appeal.

“He was the referee and he made a decision,” Roshan Shah, attorney for Maxwell and Albertson, said Thursday. “The crowd didn’t like it.”

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