A referee who was heavily criticized for telling a New Jersey high school wrestler to cut his dreadlocks or forfeit his match has taken a step toward filing a defamation lawsuit.

The tort claim notice sent by referee Alan Maloney to a dozen possible defendants alleges $100,000 damages, defamation of character and emotional distress.

Buena Regional student Andrew Johnson had his dreadlocks cut minutes before the Dec. 19 match. Johnson, who is black, had been wearing a hair covering, but Maloney, who is white, said that wouldn't do.

A widely circulated video showed the wrestler's hair being haphazardly cut on the sidelines.

Maloney has been barred from officiating pending investigations by state civil rights and interscholastic athletic association officials.

The legal claim preserves Maloney's right to a possible lawsuit.

Maloney hasn't responded to requests for comment. The school superintendent declined to comment.

(Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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