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4 FDNY sue over facial hair policy, claiming it is discriminatory

The firefighters have a condition in which they cannot shave with a razor without risking "significant pain, severe bumps, scarring, and deformities on the skin," the suit says.

New York City Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro at

New York City Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro at an FDNY promotion ceremony at Brooklyn College on Jan. 5, 2017 Photo Credit: Corey Sipkin

Four African-American firefighters have filed a federal lawsuit against the FDNY, claiming the department's facial hair policy unfairly discriminates against black men who have a skin condition and cannot be completely clean-shaven.

The lawsuit was filed Friday in Eastern District federal court against the City of New York, FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro, the FDNY and John and Jane Does 1-10, according to a copy given to Newsday by the plaintiffs’ Manhattan attorney, Aymen Aboushi. 

FDNY firefighters Salik Bey, Terrel Joseph, Steven Seymour and Clyde Phillips claim that they suffer from pseudofolliculitis barbae, which means they cannot shave with a razor without risking "significant pain, severe bumps, scarring, and deformities on the skin," the lawsuit states. They trimmed their hair to stubble and had passed oxygen mask fit tests.

The FDNY declined to comment on Saturday, citing the ongoing litigation.  

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration's website states that an "employer shall not permit respirators with tight-fitting facepieces to be worn by employees who have … [f]acial hair that comes between the sealing surface of the facepiece and the face or that interferes with valve function; or … [a]ny condition that interferes with the face-to-facepiece seal or valve function."

The firefighters had previously been given a medical accomodation to the department's facial hair policy, according to the lawsuit, but in May after being "summoned" to headquarters they were "all of a sudden" told there were no exceptions to the regulation and had to follow it.

They were placed on light duty — restricting them from overtime — so they could " 'think' about complying with the clean shave policy," the lawsuit states. If they did not, "they would be placed on a termination tract as being unable to do their jobs."

The firefighters are seeking the right to have facial hair as well as an unspecified amount of money. 

Pseudofolliculitis barbae, according to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology's website, affects up to 60 percent of black men and "results when highly curved hairs grow back into the skin causing inflammation and a foreign body reaction." 

The firefighters have been "forced to choose between having a job and earning a living, and shaving that results in significant pain, skin irritation, and lasting damage to their skin," according to the lawsuit.

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