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Fireman’s Beard Bias Claims Given a Trim

WASHINGTON (CN) - A federal judge shaved down claims by a former firefighter who says adhering to ban on bears puts him at risk of infections.

Manu Kennedy resigned in 2013 after 11 years with the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department, the last five of which he spent butting heads with the brass over a skin-irritation condition that his dermatologist has advised him to treat by growing a short beard.

The ruling notes that pseudofolliculitis barbae, or PFB, "disproportionately affects" black men and can lead to irritation and infection when shaving one's face closely."

Claiming that the condition kept a spot on his face from healing, Kennedy furnished the department in 2008 with documentation that a dermatologist instructed him to help alleviate the condition by keeping his beard length at "one-eighth of an inch."

Since 2001, however, the D.C. Fire Department, like many such departments around the country, has banned personnel who actively fight fires from donning a beard because the respirator apparatus firefighters use to breathe while working in smoky conditions must fit tightly against the skin.

Firefighters who grow beards for religious expression are exempt from the rule, but the department refused to grant Kennedy sick leave based on his condition and ultimately suspended him for violating the shaving policy.

In 2009, the department put Kennedy on light-duty status. When He returned to full duty, the department had him serve in the department's training academy for a few months in 2010, and office duty through February 2011, and finally fire-inspection duty until his resignation in May 2013.

Kennedy says that the discrimination against his race and disability kept him from advancing his firefighting career because of his beard growth, but U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper dismissed parts of the action Friday after finding that "PFB does not constitute a disability under the prevailing ... interpretation" of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"Kennedy has not met this burden," the decision states. "His complaint makes clear that he has been 'precluded from ... one type of job, a specialized job, or a particular job of choice,' not from a 'class of jobs.' Kennedy acknowledges that his PFB did not limit him from serving as a FEMS fire inspector for over two years. Although he may be not be able to perform his 'particular job of choice' as a FEMS firefighter, he can still serve in fire prevention jobs generally."

The ruling also shaves off Kennedy's claims against Mayor Vincent Gray, former D.C. Attorney General Irvin Nathan and former D.C. fire chief Kenneth Ellerbe, finding that "the claims against these officials have no independent purpose and are redundant to the claims against the District of Columbia."

As for the demand that it enjoin D.C.'s beard policy, the court found Kennedy ineligible for such relief since he has already resigned and does not seek reinstatement.

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