Verdict handed down in multi-year fight between facial hair and Municipal Transportation Bureau.

In 2015, Eiji Kono, a conductor working for the Osaka Municipal Subway, was having an evaluation interview with one of the organization’s human resource managers. The 50-something Kono thought this would be a good time to bring up a concern he had.

“In my last evaluation, I was marked down in two areas because I have a beard, wasn’t I?” Kono asked, and he was right. “You repeatedly failed to meet personal grooming standards, so we had no choice but to mark you down,” the evaluator informed him. “So do you intend to mark me down again?” the still-bearded Kono asked, which earned him a response of “If you won’t follow the grooming standards, it can’t be helped. We’re just going by the rules when doing the evaluations.”

The standards and rules the evaluator was referring to had been codified by the Osaka Municipal Transportation Bureau in 2012, when the organization added a provision stating that male employees should be “neatly shaven with no stubble. Beards, including trimmed and combed beards, are not allowed.” When Kono’s hairy-faced bucking of the system earned him the lowest possible evaluation score, he decided to sue the city, asking for monetary compensation for what he argued was an unjustly low estimation of his ability to do his job well.

▼ A necessary part of a train’s pre-departure preparations?

On Wednesday, presiding Osaka District Court judge Hiroyuki Naito handed down his verdict, ruling in favor of Kono and one other unnamed plaintiff who was also claiming an unfairly low beard-induced employee evaluation from the Osaka Municipal Subway. While Naito recognized the need and logical rationale of the rail operator to have its employees project a hygienic, non-intimidating image, he ultimately ruled that the company could, at most, ask for the voluntary cooperation of employees in being clean-shaven. “Whether to grow a beard or not is a personal freedom, and infringing on it is illegal,” Naito stated, while ordering the city of Osaka to pay 440,000 yen (US$3,900) in damages to the plaintiffs.

▼ Speaking of people in Osaka who manage to be good at their jobs while still having beards, here’s SoraNews24 writer Steven Le Blanc.

Between the time when Kono received his low evaluation score and Naito rendering his verdict, the Osaka Municipal Subway has changed to private ownership, rebranding itself as the Osaka Metro last year, and so while 440,000 yen is a nice-sized wad of cash to receive, the victory is largely a moral one. Nevertheless, Kono, who still sports a goatee, he’s says he’s happy to have his facial hair’s right to exist legally recognized. “My beard is a form of personal expression, so if I were to shave it, I would no longer be myself,” he says.

Sources: NHK News Web via Hachima Kiko, Asahi Shimbun Digital
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert image: Pakutaso

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