African-American Officer Cannot Sue Because No-Beards Regulation Treats Him More Favorabl

Eric Antrum, an African-American, is a Special Police Officer employed by the Metro Transit Police Division of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. The Division’s policy on facial hair provides that officers should be clean shaven, but makes an exception for employees diagnosed by a dermatologist as having a condition known as pseudofolliculitis barbae (PFB). PFB, an inflammatory reaction to shaving, disproportionately impacts African-American men.

On May 11, 2005, Antrum’s supervisor saw him wearing a beard at work and instructed him to shave. The next day Antrum visited his physician’s office and received a letter from a nurse stating that he had “folliculitis.” On May 17, the supervisor instructed Antrum to bring the letter to the Division’s Medical Office. Over a month passed before Antrum sought a PFB exception from his supervisors on June 30 and he submitted the nurse’s letter to the Medical Office on July 1. When Antrum presented the nurse’s letter to the Medical Office, he was informed that the letter was not adequate because the required certification must come from a dermatologist. Antrum then shaved on July 2 because, as he testified, he “did not have the means to be referred to a specialist and get an appointment in time for my next scheduled shift.”

Antrum brought an EEOC claim against the Division, alleging that the Division’s grooming code had a disparate impact on African American men. Though Antrum eventually received the requisite certification from a dermatologist and was allowed to wear a beard, he did not drop his discrimination claim.

A federal court, clearly baffled by Antrum’s arguments, dismissed the lawsuit. The Court held that “even accepting that pseudofolliculitis barbae predominantly occurs among African-Americans, Antrum cannot demonstrate that African-Americans suffer a disparate impact under the Division’s grooming code. The Division does not have a rigid no-beard rule; instead, it specifically permits individuals with pseudofolliculitis barbae to grow beards, so long as they obtain documentation of their condition from a dermatologist. It is that policy with its exception that must be assessed.

“Antrum essentially argues that the Division has discriminated against African-Americans by granting those affected by pseudofolliculitis barbae a special exception – a special benefit. The exception grants an option to black men not available to men of other races. At their core, disparate impact claims require disparate negative impact – a showing that an employer’s challenged practice or rule, although facially neutral, falls more harshly on one group than another. Here, Antrum has not demonstrated that being allowed to wear a beard once proper medical approval is acquired – a special exception for those diagnosed with pseudofolliculitis barbae – constitutes a disparate negative impact under Title VII.”

Antrum v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, 2010 WL 1840838 (D. D.C. 2010).

This article appears in the August 2010 issue