WASHINGTON (JTA) — Three Orthodox Jews filed discrimination charges against a Maryland volunteer fire department for its refusal to use them as medics unless they shave their beards.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland filed the charges against the Pikesville company on Nov. 6 with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of Matthias Goldstein, Brennan Gross and Avrohom Green.
The complaint states that the men were told in January that their beards would prevent them from being able to wear specialized safety masks the fire company was considering purchasing for medics.
The ACLU said the masks have yet to be purchased and the company’s unbearded medics all still ride in ambulances without them.
“Our position is that medics don’t need to be wearing these masks, anyway,” said Deborah Jeon, the legal director of the Maryland ACLU. “It’s unfortunate when you have some really skilled medics here who are not being allowed to do their job because of something” like this, she said.
Jeon added that alternative masks are available that would accommodate both the men’s beards and the fire company’s rule. She said the ACLU hopes to settle the matter out of court.
A spokesman for the Pikesville Volunteer Fire Company called the allegation of discrimination “ludicrous” given that the majority of the fire company’s officers are also Jewish.
“This is an issue of safety, pure and simple, and nothing more,” said spokesman Robert L. Gould. “A hundred percent of our operating leadership, the officers in charge, are Jewish. And a significant number of our executives, the administrative side, is Jewish.”