The D.C. Office of the Attorney General this afternoon lost its effort to convince a federal appeals court to revisit its decision allowing District firefighters and paramedics to wear beards at work despite safety concerns from management.
Circuit Judges David Tatel and Judith Rogers, sitting with Senior Judge Stephen Williams, issued a per curiam judgment today denying the District’s petition for rehearing.
The same panel ruled in March in favor of a group of District paramedics and firefighters who argued the city’s clean-shaven policy violates the free exercise of religion. Lawyers for the city say the beards interfere with the protective seal between the mask and the employee’s face.
“I certainly hope that this is the end of the road for this issue and that the District is not going to waste its time on a petition for certiorari,” says Arthur Spitzer, legal director of the ACLU’s National Capital Area office.
Spitzer says the case isn’t over: the question of damages remains in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The paramedics and firefighters who are part of the litigation against the District are seeking damages for lost income—city officials reassigned bearded employees to desk duty—and for emotional distress.
“Unfortunately the court denied the rehearing,” Attorney General Peter Nickles says. “Our views as to the health and safety of firefighters and paramedics haven't changed.” Nickles says expect a “hard fought” battle to spare the District from paying any damages to the plaintiffs.