Law firm Lewin & Lewin, LLP has filed a federal civil-rights lawsuit against the New York City Police Department, the City of New York, and Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, on behalf of an Orthodox Jewish recruit who was discharged for refusing to trim his traditional beard.
Fishel Litzman, a Probationary Police Officer, was discharged less than one month before he completed six months of training at the Police Academy. His lawyers are demanding that he be reinstated.
New York City police rules allow for one millimeter of facial hair on religious individuals.
“This is an action to remedy the unconstitutional discriminatory termination of Fishel Litzman’s career as a Probationary Police Officer. That termination was based entirely and exclusively upon Mr. Litzman’s refusal to trim his beard, which naturally extends to not more than about one-half inch from his face, prior to his graduation from the Police Academy with the 2012 class,” said the law firm in a statement Friday.
“Although Mr. Litzman advised the NYPD at the outset of the application process that his religious observance forbade the trimming of his beard, the NYPD swore him in as a Probationary Police Officer and caused him to resign the job he previously held as a paramedic. Since the NYPD permits police officers to grow beards after they graduate from the Police Academy, there is no legitimate governmental purpose in directing him to trim his beard to a length that does not exceed one millimeter while he is in the Police Academy.”
The law firm stated that the incident constituted religious discrimination, violating both the first amendment of the US constitution, article I, section 3 of the New York constitution and the “federal and local legal standards” as represented by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the New York State and New York City Human Rights Commissions.
“Mr. Litzman has demonstrated by his outstanding performance at the Police Academy that he would be a first-rate New York City Police Officer, and the Court should promptly give him the opportunity to achieve his lifelong ambition in this regard,” continued the statement, urging the court to have Litzman reinstated.
“If he prevails in his lawsuit. Mr. Litzman offered to waive any claim for money damages if he is reinstated immediately and enabled to make up the classes missed since he was terminated so that he might graduate with his class.”
Nathan Lewin, Litzman’s lead counsel, remarked that “this case is doubly sad because not only has the Police Department thwarted Fishel Litzman’s lifelong ambition to be a police officer solely on account of his religious observance, but it is depriving New York’s residents of the services of an individual whose performance during the training period and whose personal qualities demonstrate, beyond any doubt, that he would be an outstanding uniformed policeman.”
NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said earlier this month that the department’s rules are reasonable and Litzman was aware of them when he signed up.