Chief's Policy Brings 2 More Suspensions (The Washington Post) 04/04/01
ACLU, Union Vow to Fight Fire Chief's Decision (The Washington Post) 04/04/01
GLAA demands Fire Chief respect Human Rights Act
[Note: GLAA has chosen to weigh in on this issue, which is not directly gay related, due to our key, longstanding mission of defending the DC Human Rights Act. That law's prohibition of discrimination based on personal appearance (among many other categories) also helps protect transgendered citizens. We are happy to join our allies in the American Civil Liberties Union on this matter, and commend ACLU/NCA Legal Director Art Spitzer for his strong statement opposing Chief Few's unlawful action. Our statement also serves an educational function of reminding public servants as well as the press and public of the protections afforded by the DC Human Rights Act.]
April 4, 2001
Mayor Anthony Williams
One Judiciary Square
Washington, DC 20001
Dear Mayor Williams:
We were disappointed to learn that Chief Ronnie Few has disciplined and threatened termination of fire fighters because of the length of their hair or facial hair.
This is in clear violation of the DC Human Rights Act and your Order 2000-131 dated August 21, 2000. Among the 15 categories under which neither the city nor private employers may discriminate is personal appearance.
Paragraph 22 of the definitions section of the Human Rights Act states:
(22) "Personal appearance" means the outward appearance of any person, irrespective of sex, with regard to bodily condition or characteristics, manner or style of dress, and manner or style of personal grooming, including, but not limited to, hair style and beards. It shall not relate, however, to the requirement of cleanliness, uniforms, or prescribed standards, when uniformly applied for admittance to a public accommodation, or when uniformly applied to a class of employees for a reasonable business purpose; or when such bodily conditions or characteristics, style or manner of dress or personal grooming presents a danger to the health, welfare or safety of any individual.
The 1973 law explicitly protects employees who wish to grow beards or have hairstyles to their liking.
The additional claim by some fire fighters of religious significance of their beards or hairstyle only compounds the offense.
If Chief Few has reason to believe that a firefighter's choice of hairstyle or beard poses a safety risk, it should be fully explored. However, the safety concern does not appear to be supported by any evidence or experience. Certainly in the case of longer beards cited by Muslim firefighters, Islamic countries could be consulted about appropriate gear.
In any event, reasonable accommodations can be made for those who have longer hair or beards. The Fire Department and Emergency Medical Services have numerous jobs which don't involve face masks. Among these are drivers, paramedics, administrators, and dispatchers.
Under no circumstances should the first response by Chief Few be for the termination of Fire Fighters. His inflammatory statements in the Washington Post indicate the very cultural insensitivity and lack or respect and understanding of the Human Rights Law that I discussed in Chief Few's confirmation hearing on September 27, 2000.
Chief Few's illegal policy on facial hair and hairstyle must be reversed and Chief Few needs to apologize to the Firefighters and the City of Washington.
Please let me know what action you will be taking.
Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance
CC: DC Councilmembers
Chief Ronnie Few, Department of Fire/EMS
Charles Holman, Director of the Office of Human Rights
Philip Pannell, Special Assistant to the Mayor for GLBT Affairs
Raymond Sneed, President, DC Fire Fighters Association
Art Spitzer, Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union/National Capital Area