Bearded firefighter wins in appeals court

Bearded firefighter wins in appeals court

The District of Columbia Court of Appeals has ruled that Firefighter Brian R. Kennedy, dismissed for wearing a beard and handlebar mustache, was discriminated against on the basis of appearance and is entitled to back pay and reinstatement. (Kennedy v. District of Columbia, DC Ct App, Nos. 91-1503 and 91-1504, 9/12/94)

The District of Columbia Fire Department had argued that the facial hair interfered with the seal on the firefighter`s face mask and therefore was a safety hazard. The appeals court disagreed.

The appeals court affirmed in part a trial court ruling that said Kennedy`s dismissal violated the Washington, D.C. Human Rights Act of 1977 and Mayor`s Order 75-230, 1975 D.C. Stat. 510 covering public employees, which outlaws discrimination based on personal appearance, which includes “personal grooming, including… hair style or beards.” The order provides that an employer may impose requirements related to “cleanliness, uniforms, or prescribed standards,” when uniformly applied to a class of employees, for a reasonable business purpose; or when such bodily conditions or characteristics, or style or manner of dress or personal grooming presents a danger to the health, welfare, or safety of any individual.”

The District of Columbia director of Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) had ruled that department regulations were not equally applied to employees, were not an essential component of an employee`s uniform, did not foster esprit de corps among employees, and were not rationally based on safety. Carol Lowe, special assistant to the city administrator, reversed the decision and upheld the department`s grooming regulations. The Superior Court reversed her decision, reinstating the EEO director`s ruling that Kennedy had been discriminated against. The appeals court agreed.

The appeals court refused to grant compensatory damages because the record established by the EEO director did not support the damages. The court said it need not decide if compensatory damages are allowed under the mayor`s order.

The appeals court remanded the case to the trial court to determine if Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 sanctions were properly denied. Rule 11 allows sanctions if a pleading or motion is used to harass or “cause unnecessary delay or needless increase in the cost of litigation.”

Source: Bureau of National Affairs Occupational Safety & Health Reporter, Oct. 5, 1994; ICHIEFS Bulletin Board.

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