GLAA writes Mayor on DC Fire/EMS Department Grooming Policy
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GLAA writes Mayor on DC Fire/EMS Department Grooming Policy

Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington, DC
PO Box 75265
Washington, DC 20013
202-667-5139

June 6, 2001

Mayor Anthony Williams
One Judiciary Square
Washington, DC 20001

Dear Mayor Williams:

We have not received a response to our April 4, 2001 stating our concerns with the violation of the Human Rights Act and the First Amendment by Chief Ronnie Few in terminating firefighters for non-compliance with the grooming policy.

Your failure to take action has resulted in a lawsuit against the city by firefighters led by the ACLU. There will likely be further suits if you don't correct the errors in the policy. Only a policy based on safety, and not the appearance of safety will pass legal and political muster. Safety guidelines need to be based on actual and verifiable safety tests performed on a case-by-case basis.

The Chief in public statements and his Special Order of April 1, 2001 make clear that safety is only a secondary concern of the policy. Chief states the policy "will be implemented now as part of my effort to increase discipline, uniformity, safety and espirit de corp [sic] throughout this Department. It is important for our members to project a positive public image that is consistent with wearing uniforms."

However the Human Rights Act specifically protects employees on the basis of "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 Fire/EMS Department policy on personal grooming (XXI-20) states:

As a matter of personal grooming and in order to ensure that the proper donning or wearing of protective clothing and equipment does not present any contributing hazard to personal safety while performing duties, the following guidelines shall be adhered to:

Hair - Male and Female Employees:

1. Hair shall be neat, clean, trimmed and styled to present a well groomed appearance;

2. Hair shall not be of such length and/or bulk that it prevents the uniform cap from fitting securely on the head;

3. Hair on the back of the head may touch, but shall not extend below, the mid-point of the shirt collar;

4. Hair shall be groomed so that, when the head is covered, the hair does not fall below the eyebrows or bunch out to the front, side, or rear of the headgear. Additionally, the hair shall not interfere with a proper seal of the air mask face piece;

5. Extreme or fad style haircuts such as, but not limited to, the following are prohibited:

a. mohawks
b. tracks, designs, or sculptures cut into the hair
c. decorations (in or on the hair)
d. ducktails, ponytails, or pigtails

6. Hair shall only be natural colors. Extreme or fad type hair colors are prohibited.

7. Hairpins that are inconspicuous may be used to comply with these regulations.

Sideburns

If the individual desires to wear sideburns, they shall be neatly trimmed and shall not interfere with the proper seal of the face mask.

Facial Hair

For the safety of the individual concerned, it is recommended that the face be clean shaven except for a well-trimmed mustache.

If the individual desires to wear a beard, it shall be neatly trimmed, not more that inch in length, and shall not interfere with the proper seal of the air mask face piece.

Earrings

Earrings may be worn provided they are small "loop" or "post-type." No dangle earrings may be worn.

We agree that points 2 and 4 under hair are directly related to safety, and follow a reasonable, safety-based policy.

Point 7 is likewise reasonable and does no harm to the Human Rights Act.

Points 3, 5 and 6 however fail to have a basis in safety or reasonable business purpose. They relate directly to personal style and are in violation of the Human Rights Act. These sections will be struck down by the courts in the same manner that the earlier policy was struck down by the Superior Court in 1995 at great, and completely unnecessary, expense to the City.

"Extreme" haircuts and color are a matter of fashion and taste which varies from time to time. They are precisely what the Human Rights Act intends to protect. Afros, corn rows, and shaved heads have all been called extreme at various times. Prohibiting them does injury to both the Human Rights Act as well as discipline, and esprit de corps of the firefighters.

Point 3, on the length of hair can be made into a safety-based, and not appearance based policy by adopting the language recommended by Women in Fire Service, Inc.: "No hair shall be exposed during fire fighting activities."

This simple policy is based on practical safety concerns, and is entirely consistent with both the Human Rights Act and the First Amendment.

Point 1 and the section on facial hair requiring neatly trimmed hair and beards is in direct opposition of certain protected religious practices. Religious practices are protected under the Human Rights Act and various federal laws and the First Amendment. The Policy must provide for religious exemptions to the trimming requirement or fully demonstrate in an objective test, how safety is compromised.

The section on sideburns is a well crafted safety-based policy. The section on facial hair needs only to delete the phrase "not more that inch in length" to also become a safety-based policy in compliance with the Human Rights Act.

The section on earrings is also based on an objective safety issue and does not present any problems with the Human Rights Act or First Amendment.

GLAA is very concerned about the safety of DC residents, visitors and employees. However, this policy controversy has pointed out a lack of regular and consistent safety checks for the Fire Department. Chief Few has not been forthcoming with information related to the regularity of safety tests. In particular, the Self Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) fit test needs to be conducted periodically for all personnel. The press reports indicate that this critical safety test is not being conducted. Why not? What is the schedule for the fit test, and is it being followed? How are personnel failing the fit test being re-equipped with properly fitting SCBA gear?

Additionally, regular checks of safety equipment and protective gear need to be made in an ongoing fashion. A national survey by Women in Fire Service shows a significant problem with ill-fitting equipment. What checks are being made within the DC Fire Department?

We hope that you will order these simple edits to the grooming policy, end the lawsuits and insure that safety procedures and equipment tests are mandated and implemented.

Please inform us of your decision.

Sincerely,

Bob Summersgill
President

Attachment

CC: DC Councilmembers
John Kostinen, Deputy Mayor/CAO
Chief Ronnie Few, Department of Fire/EMS
Charles Holman, Director of the Office of Human Rights
Robert Rigsby, Corporation Counsel
Philip Pannell, Special Assistant to the Mayor for GLBT Affairs
Raymond Sneed, President, DC Fire Fighters Association
Art Spitzer, Legal Director, ACLU of the National Capital Area


Suggested Fire/EMS Grooming Policy

As a matter of personal grooming and in order to ensure that the proper donning or wearing of protective clothing and equipment does not present any contributing hazard to personal safety while performing duties, the following guidelines shall be adhered to:

Hair - Male and Female Employees:

1. Hair shall be neat, clean, trimmed and styled to present a well groomed appearance;

2. Hair shall not be of such length and/or bulk that it prevents the uniform cap from fitting securely on the head;

3. No hair shall be exposed during fire fighting activities;

4. Hair shall be groomed so that, when the head is covered, the hair does not fall below the eyebrows or bunch out to the front, side, or rear of the headgear. Additionally, the hair shall not interfere with a proper seal of the air mask face piece;

5. Hairpins that are inconspicuous may be used to comply with these regulations.

Sideburns

If the individual desires to wear sideburns, they shall be neatly trimmed and shall not interfere with the proper seal of the face mask.

Facial Hair

For the safety of the individual concerned, it is recommended that the face be clean shaven except for a well-trimmed mustache.

If the individual desires to wear a beard, it shall be neatly trimmed, and shall not interfere with the proper seal of the air mask face piece.

Earrings

Earrings may be worn provided they are small "loop" or "post-type." No dangle earrings may be worn.

Religious Exemption

Individuals may seek a religious exemption to the trimmed hair and facial hair requirements. Such exemptions must be shown to not interfere with the proper seal of the air mask face piece or otherwise compromise the proper functioning of other safety equipment.


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