4 DCFEMS members ask judge to overturn policy against beards

The firefighters and EMS providers are also seeking damages they say they are owed from having to work desk jobs, which pay less, for 18 months


Photo/D.C. Fire and EMS

By Leila Merrill

WASHINGTON — Firefighters and EMS providers have accused the district of violating a federal court decision that protects their right to wear beards for religious reasons. They have asked a federal judge to throw out a city policy from 2020 that restricts facial hair.

The four D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services employees say they were moved from field duty to desk jobs in March 2020, when they refused to comply with a new policy banning most types of facial hair, the DCist reported, based on a Nov. 7 court motion. The policy was enacted as mask mandates were put in place after the arrival of COVID-19.

The four men filed a motion earlier this month that claims their reassignments violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

In addition, in 2007, a federal judge struck down a requirement that firefighters be clean-shaven. A group of firefighters who wear beards for religious reasons first sued over the issue in 2001.

According to the more recent court filing, in March 2020, the firefighters and paramedics were transferred from fieldwork to office jobs, where they earned less money and had fewer opportunities to earn overtime, and other extra pay on holidays, weekends and nights, WTOP reported.

The plaintiffs said they were allowed to return to field duty in August 2021 – 18 months after being reassigned.

The plaintiffs are asking the court to hold the district in civil contempt and to order the city to compensate them for the funds they would have earned during their reassignments.