Meanwhile, a spate of cases have been brought against no-beard policies at fire departments around the country by African American men suffering from a common skin condition called pseudofolliculitis barbae. The condition, which disproportionately affects African Americans, leaves pimply bumps on the beard area after shaving and can cause scarring over time — and the 100 percent effective cure is to refrain from shaving. No-beard policies in fire departments are borne out of the need for firefighters to wear respirators when battling infernos. While the results of those cases varied from city to city, some plaintiffs were able to show that the policies were a form of racial discrimination because they had a disparate impact on African Americans.
Meanwhile, staff attorney Linda Lye of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California was willing to weigh in. There are no laws banning no-beard policies on the state or federal level, Lye said, yet courts have ordered employers to make exceptions for religious reasons and to prevent racial discrimination in the case of the black firefighters. She added that certain municipalities such as Santa Cruz have enacted employment laws that prevent discrimination in appearance policies. In general, Lye noted, the ACLU is "troubled whenever employees are penalized because of medical conditions, race, sexual orientation, or other similar factors."