Court Upholds Cleveland Fire’s No Beard Policy

A Cleveland firefighter who claimed to have been the victim of race and disability discrimination due to Cleveland’s facial hair policy, has lost his lawsuit to be allowed to have a short beard. Anthony Davis filed suit in 2023, claiming the city’s policy prohibiting facial hair at the SCBA interface was aimed at  “thinning the ranks of Black/African American firefighters.”

Davis, who suffers from Pseudofolliculitis Barbae (PFB), was permitted to maintain a short beard of between 1 mm and 1/4 inch until April 1, 2020 when the city eliminated facial hair at the facepiece interface. He sued the city and Fire Chief Angelo Calvillo alleging race discrimination under Title VII and state law; disability discrimination under the American’s with Disabilities Act and state law; a violation of equal protection under 42 U.S.C. §1983; and a §1983 Monell claim for maintaining an unconstitutional policy.

The city moved for a judgment on the pleadings claiming (1) Davis’s condition did not qualify as a disability, and (2) that federal OSHA regulations, made mandatory by Ohio state law, required the city to adopt a strict no exception rule for facial hair at the SCBA interface. Judge Solomon Oliver, Jr. concluded that PFB is indeed a disability qualifying condition, but that OSHA regulations create a business necessity for the city that justifies the no-beard rule, thereby insulating it from challenge either on race, disability, or §1983 grounds.

Quoting from the decision:

  • Simply put, Cleveland must be able to enforce the OSHA regulations as written, lest it “be required on a case-by-case basis to reinvent the Government’s own wheel.”
  • Davis brings a sympathetic case. He allegedly suffers from a skin condition that afflicts Black men only and was forced to leave the firefighting force-his career of nearly two decades-through no fault of his own.
  • Nevertheless, the court is constrained by the law with respect to the claims he pled.
  • For the foregoing reasons, the court grants Defendants City of Cleveland and Angelo Calvillo’s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings

Here is a copy of the decision:

Here is a copy of the original complaint:

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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