Black men sometimes find themselves in the position of having to push back against rules that require them to shave, whether it’s facial hair or their locks.
One of the latest cases involves a former University of Pennsylvania police officer who filed a racial discrimination lawsuit, which includes a complaint that his bosses harassed him for not complying with facial hair standards. Officers have to be clean cut, except for mustaches or short sideburns. Joseph Lewis, a six-year vet of the force, however, suffered from razor bumps, which made it painful to shave. The condition is common in about 60 percent of African-American men or people with coarse, curly hair, according to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. He filed his suit in 2016 and now the judge has approved a jury trial.
The Penn Police offer an exception to its shaving requirement for medical reasons. Although Lewis complied with the process for getting a waiver, that “just wasn’t good enough for them,” his attorney said.
A no-beard employment policies can be racially discriminatory “if it is not job-related and has a negative impact on the employment of African-American men (who have a predisposition to a skin condition that causes severe shaving bumps),” according to the U.S. Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Those types of cases are common. In 2015, an officer in the Atlanta Police Department had a similar showdown over his refusal to shave because of the pain and discomfort. Officer D. Jemes filed an EEOC complaint alleging racial discrimination after the department wouldn’t allow Jemes to work because he refused to comply with its shaving rules. In another example, a former Baltimore police officer won a $60,000 settlement from the city in 2009 when his bosses gave him a plastic Bic razor and ordered him to shave.
Religious discrimination was at issue when Publix, a supermarket chain, ordered a new hire to cut his dreadlocks. The EEOC filed a federal lawsuit in October on behalf of the Nashville, Tennessee worker, who is a Rastafarian, a religion that bans male followers from cutting their hair.