Judge: Jacksonville has 'no mechanism to deviate' from rule making Black firefighters shave
Black firefighters who sued Jacksonville for grooming standards that could help them manage a common skin problem have lost their case, a federal judge has ruled.
The firefighters went to court in 2020 arguing the fire department was wrongly burdening Black firefighters by requiring them to be cleanshaven even if they had a condition called pseudofolliculitis barbae, or PFB, which can involve ingrown hairs, irritated skin and scarring.
“At issue is whether the city discriminated against plaintiffs when it required firefighters with PFB, which primarily affects African American men, to be cleanshaven,” U.S. Senior District Judge Harvey Schlesinger wrote this month in an order that ends the case.
Thirty firefighters initially sued, saying they should be allowed to have close-trimmed beards that would be enough to avoid skin inflammation but wouldn’t harm the fit of oxygen masks their jobs require in emergency settings.
In a 17-page order reviewing the case, Schlesinger concluded that the plaintiffs, whose numbers had shrunk, were asking for something that would violate rules of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
“[T]he city is compelled to comply with OSHA regulations because state law specifically adopts the federal regulations at issue,” the judge wrote. “Adopting Plaintiffs’ proposed accommodation would cause the city to violate state law.”
The firefighters had argued the trimmed-bear standard they wanted counted as a “reasonable accommodation” for PFB under the Americans with Disabilities Act, but the ask “is not reasonable within the meaning of the ADA because it is specifically prohibited by a by a binding regulation,” Schlesinger concluded.
“The federal regulations do not allow for individual consideration of facial hair,” the judge wrote. “…[I]t prohibits all facial hair. There is no mechanism for the city to deviate.”
The city followed the exact accommodation the firefighters were seeking back in 2015, but had backtracked in 2016 after city lawyers said that concession was improper. That had left the firefighters frustrated and confused, leading to attorneys in Jacksonville becoming part of a lengthening list of cities nationwide where rules on firefighter hair were decided by litigation.
This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: No relief for Black firefighters suing over Jacksonville shaving rule