California’s policy barring beards on prison guards has come under scrutiny by the U.S. Justice Department after a discrimination lawsuit by a Sikh man who said he was denied a job because of his facial hair, which is part of his religious practice, the Los Angeles Times reports. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation settled the lawsuit last year by paying $295,000 to the plaintiff, Trilochan Oberoi, and giving him a $61,000-a-year administrative job. He had been told he would have to shave to be considered for a prison guard job.
The state has maintained its no-beard policy, citing safety issues. Prison guards must be able to wear gas masks during emergencies. State officials say California rules are identical to regulations by the federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration: “The employer shall not permit respirators with tight-fitting facepieces to be worn by employees who have [ ] facial hair that comes between the sealing surface of the facepiece and the face or that interferes with valve function.” Oberoi’s attorney, Harmeet Dhillon, who is also a Sikh, said that there are gas masks available that can be used by bearded men, but that the corrections department has declined to approve them.