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Black Firefighters Sue FDNY for Discriminating Against Their Medical Conditions

Four Black firefighters hit back against the New York City Fire Department on Friday and filed a federal lawsuit claiming discrimination regarding a skin condition.

FDNY firefighters Salik Bey, Terrel Joseph, Steven Seymour and Clyde Phillips have a condition called pseudofolliculitis barbae which prevents the quartet from being able to shave completely.

However, the four fighters were pulled from their assigned firehouses and placed on light duty. They claimed that the department’s facial hair policy knowingly discriminated against them and their medical condition.

“When they changed the policy, they understood that many Black firefighters had a medical accommodation for it, then they called these individuals in to talk about it, so they saw that they were going to be moving a number of Black firefighters,” the firefighter’s attorney Aymen Aboushi told the New York Daily News. “It’s really another level of clueless for them to not understand what they were doing.”

All four firefighters received doctor notes that explained their condition which specifically stated any shaving could cause scarring. Accommodations were permitted by the former FDNY chief years ago who only required the quartet to “maintain very slight and barely noticeable facial hair” as long as a “fit test” was passed. However, the policy was changed in May by Commissioner Daniel Nigro and it primarily affected African American fire workers.

Legal documents stated, “The result of the (FDNY’s) actions is that a disproportionate number of Black firefighters were adversely affected by the policy, reassigned and forced to choose between their livelihood and serving the city they love.”

The four firefighters said they were “treated inhumanely” when they arrived at FDNY headquarters and officials “poked and prodded their faces, rubbed their faces and felt around their faces.”

The lawsuit also stated, “[The plaintiffs were] placed on light duty for a period of time so they can think’ about complying with the clean shave policy.”

Around 20 Black firefighters were affected by the policy accommodations. Many of the workers were unable to obtain overtime pay after being placed on light duty assignments.

The firefighter’s attorney expects other Black fire employees to pursue legal action against the FDNY. Aboushi told the news outlet, “All they want to do is serve the city and do their job and now they have been put on a termination track on something that’s beyond their control — on how the Almighty made them.”

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