A New Jersey firefighter has filed a civil rights lawsuit alleging that he is being forced to shave a beard he says he grew for religious reasons.
NJ.com reports that Atlantic City firefighter Alexander Smith says in his lawsuit he began growing out his beard in December as a born-again Christian. He says the department is threatening to suspend him without pay.
Fire department guidelines prohibit beards and goatees, saying facial hair can affect the seal of the breathing mask firefighters wear while battling fires.
Smith requested an accommodation for the beard Jan. 3, but the city denied his request Feb. 15, citing "overwhelming safety concerns."
Smith works as an air mask technician and says he has never had to enter a burning building or wear a mask in his role.
He says in the lawsuit when he does respond to a fire, it's for the purpose of refilling air bottles.
Smith is suing the city, Fire Chief Scott Evans and Deputy Chief Thomas Culleny Jr. for violating his religious freedoms and violating the state Civil Rights Act.
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He is seeking an injunction to prevent the department from any adverse employment actions and damages to be determined at trial.
His attorney has filed a temporary restraining order while the lawsuit is pending. A judge has not issued a ruling on the order, and Smith is allowed to work with the beard for the time being.
A request for comment was left with Evans and Culleny.