The Florida Times-Union
Thirty Black Jacksonville firefighters are suing the city over its requirement to be cleanshaven, saying unreasonable standards are making them choose between painful skin problems and losing their careers.
The firefighters, all men, have pseudofolliculitis barbae, a condition where curly hair becomes ingrown or skin becomes inflamed and sometimes scarred, a lawsuit filed this week in federal court says.
The condition, often described as “razor bumps,” can appear in up to 60 percent of African American men, according to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology.
The city previously let firefighters with that condition have closely trimmed hair as an accommodation under the Americans With Disabilities Act, provided that it didn’t affect the fit of a mask for a breathing apparatus.
But the city reversed course in 2016, with city lawyers saying state law spelled out a safety standard and “that ADA accommodations were afforded in violation of such standard,” the Times-Union reported then.
A city memo in 2016 warned that firefighters who weren’t cleanshaven would be taken off firefighting shifts and put on light-duty assignments.
Reassignment would mean less pay, the suit said, and would bar firefighters from taking promotion tests until they met the grooming standard.
The suit argues the city’s stance was unnecessary and illegal, saying all the firefighters suing had passed “fit tests” showing oxygen wouldn’t leak from their face masks.
“The position taken by the [fire] department is a farce, and aimed at discriminating against plaintiffs and coercing them by taking away their ability to earn a living,” attorney Anthony J. Hall of Morgan & Morgan argues in the suit.
Hall’s suit asks for injunctive relief from the current policy; compensation for any lost pay and benefits, plus emotional pain and suffering; and attorneys’ fees.
The suit says the firefighters could do all of their duties without creating any hardship to the city, and says the grooming rules changed “without any notice, legitimate reason or rational basis.”
Asked for reaction to the lawsuit, a city spokeswoman did not respond Tuesday.
The case is part of a growing docket of court fights nationally over facial hair rules in fire departments.
In January, a federal judge in Brooklyn ordered New York’s fire department to reinstate an ADA accommodation for four Black firefighters with pseudofolliculitis barbae after that agency also switched to requiring everyone to be cleanshaven. New York officials are appealing.
Other cases by firefighters in Chesapeake, Va. and Berkeley, Cal. ended without federal court rulings on mask rules and the skin condition. Elsewhere, cases have been argued with mixed results over whether rules requiring firefighters to be cleanshaven violated firefighters’ religious rights.
This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Black firefighters sue over Jacksonville policy requiring crews to be cleanshaven
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