LAWSUIT: Frum Medics Prevented From Responding to 911 Calls

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sol.jpgBALTIMORE, MD – Three Orthodox medics assert in discrimination charges filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, that the Pikesville Volunteer Fire Company (PVFC) has illegally barred them from riding on calls, in violation of their religious rights and in retaliation for their involvement in an Orthodox emergency response organization. The medics – Dr. Matthias Goldstein, Brennan Gross, and Avrohom Green – were told last winter that because of their refusal to shave their beards on religious grounds, they could not ride with the company as medics. This, the PVFC claimed, was because the beards might prevent them from wearing specialized safety masks that it hopes to purchase at some future date.

The medics are being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland and the Baltimore office of Hogan & Hartson, which is working pro bono.

“Not only does the fire company not yet equip any of its medics with these masks, but even if it did, such masks are not necessary for medics, because as a matter of policy, medics do not enter scenes where there is immediate danger to life and health,” said Dr. Matt Goldstein, an experienced emergency medical services instructor and paramedic who has worked with the Pikesville Company for 17 years. “Sadly, we cannot help but conclude that the no-beard rule is nothing more than a way to get rid of us – just a pretext for discrimination against Orthodox Jews.”

Dr. Goldstein and Mr. Gross also volunteer for an emergency response organization, called Hatzalah, which services the northwest Baltimore communities. Hatzalah – meaning “rescue” or “relief” in Hebrew – is comprised predominately of responders from the Orthodox Jewish community. Conflict arose last December, after PVFC officials learned of Dr. Goldstein’s involvement in Hatzalah, which he believes PVFC’s views as a competing organization. Shortly thereafter, Dr. Goldstein and Mr. Gross were told they could no longer respond to medic calls because of their beards. Efforts by the Orthodox medics since that time to mediate the dispute have thus far proven unsuccessful, leading to their EEOC filing last week, which protects their rights to pursue an action in court, should that ultimately be necessary.

“What a shame to have a service organization like this fighting religious turf wars, and using suspect safety concerns to turn away dedicated medics who are simply trying to serve their community in a way consistent with their religious beliefs,” said ACLU of Maryland Legal Director Deborah Jeon.

The masks at issue, called self-contained breathing apparatus or SCBA masks, are typically worn by firefighters but not medics. The existence of facial hair makes it difficult for SCBA masks to fit tightly, but alternative safety masks are available that can be used by individuals who wear beards. In addition, last year, in a similar case in the District of Columbia involving bearded Muslim firefighters, the federal appellate court for the District of Columbia ruled that the no beard rule was improper, and that the department should accommodate the firefighters’ sincerely held religious beliefs.

The Orthodox medics’ charges with the EEOC assert that the PVFC’s actions constitute religious discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Lawyers In the case include: Gil Abramson, Jennifer Walker, and Allison Caplis of Hogan & Hartson, and Deborah Jeon of the ACLU of Maryland.

Bios of the Orthodox Medics:

Dr. Matthias Goldstein: Dr. Goldstein is Chief of Preventive Medicine and Wellness at Good Samaritan Hospital. He is a Physician Assistant and has a doctorate in Health Sciences. Goldstein has been employed as a paramedic with the Pikesville Volunteer Fire Company since April 1993. He has also been an instructor for the PVFC as well as the Baltimore County Fire Department. Dr. Goldstein is a practicing Orthodox Jew and maintains his beard as part of his religious beliefs.

Three years ago, Dr. Goldstein became involved in a new Orthodox emergency response organization, called Hatzalah, which is comprised predominately of responders from the Orthodox Jewish community. This organization was established to bridge the service gap in the city and county northwest corridor. Until recently, he was never told that his beard posed any problem or issue with regard to his ability to perform his job. He has repeatedly tried in good faith the resolve the dispute, and even offered information on an alternative mask that accommodates the needs of healthcare professionals who have beards.  But thus far he has been unable to resolve the dispute.

Brennan A. Gross: Mr. Gross was hired by the Pikesville Volunteer Fire Company in November 2008 as an EMT. However, despite maintaining his beard during the interview process, agility test, and PVFC company vote, he was informed in February 2009 that he could not perform the job because of his beard. Mr. Gross is especially concerned that other PVFC personnel without beards have been permitted to ride as medics even though they do not wear masks. He now is a paramedic with Hatzalah and has not been allowed to ride with PVFC.

Avrohom Green: In January 2009, Mr. Green was denied acceptance as a medic with the Pikesville Volunteer Fire Company because he maintains a beard. Mr. Green is a practicing Orthodox Jew and maintains his beard as part of his religious beliefs. He does not believe that the no-beard policy should also apply to medics, and in any case finds it troubling that although the same operating procedures have been in place since 2002, they are only now being interpreted to preclude service by bearded medics.

TO CONTACT THE PIKESVILLE VOLUNTEER FIRE COMPANY:

Pikesville Volunteer Fire Company
40 East Sudbrook Lane
Pikesville, MD 21208

Captain: captain@pvfd32.org
President: president@pvfd32.org

(YWN World Headquarters – NYC)


18 COMMENTS

  1. They might have a serious problem suing on the basis of employment discrimination under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 since it doesn’t cover volunteers (unless they are paid employees, not volunteers). They might be better suing under Maryland’s prohibition of “test acts” or under the equal protection (and state action) clauses.

  2. 3, what are you talking about?! Right wingers on the courts?? Where???? Not in this country.

    As far as beards in the military are concerned, they have that as a long standing rule. In this case there is no rule, they just made it up.

  3. According to OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration):

    “Facepiece seal protection.
    1910.134(g)(1)(i)
    The employer shall not permit respirators with tight-fitting facepieces to be worn by employees who have:
    1910.134(g)(1)(i)(A)
    Facial hair that comes between the sealing surface of the facepiece and the face or that interferes with valve function;…”

    These requirements come directly from OSHA and have nothing to do with individual companies. In fact, individual companies have no choice but to enforce these rules.

    For more info see http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_id=12716&p_table=standards

  4. #7 Read the article again. This is NOT a suit being brought by Hatzola. It is an EEOC complaint brought by members of that fire company, who happen to be Hatzola members. It just so happens they are part of Hatzola.

  5. Why do these people need to be in the fire dept. anyway? Doesn’t the fire dept. have their own paramedics? Its not like the Hatzalah people who get there quicker and save lives. Is it worth making this such an issue? Aren’t frum yidden in the news enough already?

  6. This is rampid in the US. The anti-semitic people on first aid squads, don’t want frum jews especially after the birth of Hatzolah everywhere. The real problem is not so much the overt hatred, but the underlying hatred. I know a medic in a town where they don’t have Hatzolah and lost his job due to the fact of having a beard. You see these people really do have a goyishe Kopp. They fired him when OSHA came out with the regulation of N95 masks for TB. You can’t wear these with a beard because you can’t do fit testing. But with their goyishe Kopps they just follow the regs blindly, they don’t understand the reason behind it. The purpose of OSHA is to protect the employees against harmful things. This could be accomplished with having the medics or EMT’s wear PAPR’s. Someone has got to go to OSHA and have them change the regs, because these goyishe Kopps will never understand this simple concept. This is why they can’t begin to learn Torah Sheh Baal Peh!

  7. Scubafreak is correct as to the law but not its application. Unless PFVC requires its medics to be firefighters, there is no reason for them to wear SCBA. If they have to wear a respirator, then they could use a hooded PAPR(powered air purifying respirator)(hence “tight-fitting facepieces” does not apply and they can have beards).
    If they are involved in firefighting, then they must wear an SCBA and get rid of the beards (there is no alternative for use in a fire environment).

  8. Shlomo, it was my understanding that PAPR cannot be used in any IDLH atmospheres, which are not limited to fire scenarios alone. (CO, HCN, H2S, etc…) Furthermore, it is also my understanding that according to the Baltimore County Fire Department’s standard operating procedures, EMS personnel must be capable of responding into IDLH atmospheres. (Fire scenarios generally excluded.) If you need proof, look no farther than any county medic unit, each of which is equipped with 2 SCBA units, which are not compatible with PAPR. Again, it appears as if all the “discriminatory” legislation is coming from sources whose authority far supersedes PVFC. This lawsuit should be directed at OSHA, MOSHA, or the BCoFD, not PVFC.

  9. To ScubaFREAK,
    Either you are very anti-semitic and don’t belong on this orthodox jewish site or you’re very ignorant. I’ll assume you’re ignorant- I already posted how you can protect yourself against TB with a beard by wearing PAPR’s. First of all, OSHA writes in a letter how you can have respiratory protection in the FD with a beard(including IDLH). One of the things that they write are -hooded SCBA. In case your FD looked to purchase this and couldn’t find it -the Surviair company makes hooded SCBA’s. Stop using OSHA (or others) as your scapegoat. Now if you have any decency -go back to your leaders at PVFC and tell them to stop discriminating against ultra-orthodox Jews. BTW, I’m not a member of any Hatzolah, so I’m not bias!

  10. I’m not sure how explaining where these rules come from make me anti-semitic, and I resent the notion greatly. It’s exactly these kinds of mindless accusations that started all this nonsense in the first place. I’m also not a member of PVFC, so again, good job. And this lawsuit isn’t Hatzalah vs. PVFC, it’s Goldstein vs. PVFC, and not being a Hatzalah member doesn’t preclude you from being biased, which it is fairly obvious you are.

  11. Ok, enough is enough! Here are the facts. It’s kind of hard for an organization like Pikesville VFC to be accused of religious discrimination when the entire operational leadership (AKA officers) are JEWISH!!! Including the first ORTHODOX FEMALE emergency medical service Lieutenant in Baltimore County FD history! And, furthermore, an overwhelming number of the executive board leadership is JEWISH. Paramedics DO need their masks for other-than-fire incidents (CO, Haz Mat). This is a safety matter – not religions! PVFC is being unfairly targeted – AND YES, I’m Jewish. The facts are the facts!

  12. ScubaFREAK & Fact checker-Before you respond in your anger -read my post. I said -“hooded SCBA’s” can be worn in IDLH and with beards! So if you and PVFC aren’t anti-semitic- tell me the reason people with beards can’t be on a FD? Maybe we should make a special collection for the hooded SCBA’s because you can only afford the mask kind?! Also, some of the biggest anti-semities are Jews! BTW, standing up for truth and defending innocent victims isn’t being biased! Fact-checker change your name to Falsehood promoter!

  13. HEALTH: I find your suggestion that some of the biggest anti-semites are Jews! I reiterate what I said before – not in anger but in fact – this is a safety issue and nothing more. I find it amazing that you (Health) can’t take what’s said at face value. It is, as they say, what it is!