Muslim Police Officer Sues NYPD Over Beard Ban Suspension

Muslim NYPD officer Masood Syed was suspended without pay for refusing to shave his beard. A judge ruled the beard ban is unconstitutional and ordered Syed to be reinstated. Although the no-beard policy was enacted for safety reasons related to proper suction of gas masks, there are exceptions to the regulation.

“Given an ultimatum to choose between my faith and my career on that day was one of the most disquieting moments of my life, hopefully no other officer will be put in that situation again,” officer Masood Syed said.

Masood Syed was a NYPD officer for 10 years before being suspended for refusing to shave his 1-inch beard for “religious reasons,” the Daily Mail reports. A New York judge took just a little more than a week to review the case and decided Syed should be reinstated and have all back pay and benefits restored.

“It appears the NYPD has taken this crucial step to address this policy, and I am looking forward to getting back to work,” Syed said after the judge’s ruling.

Syed has already returned to the NYPD with his beard untouched, according to a report by NBC News.

Officer Syed claims he kept his beard at about the same length for the bulk of his career. He decided to sue the NYPD over the no-beard policy after his suspension. He claimed the rule was unconstitutional.

Michael Fleming, a New York City Police Department attorney, told reporters the beard rules were in place to ensure gas masks would fit both tightly and property on officer’s face in order to protect them.

The NYPD has always reportedly allowed beards up to one millimeter in length. Masood Syed’s attorney claims the beard rules were “inconsistently” enforced and are entirely unconstitutional.

Syed’s lawsuit sought unspecified financial damages and a court order overturning the NYPD beard ban. Attorneys for the police department are reportedly expected to complete a review of the beard regulations over the course of the next 120 days.

The NYPD will also begin examining how beard violation disciplinary actions and exemptions are handled.

U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel not only sided with Syed, but openly criticized New York City police officials, before issuing a temporary restraining order allowing the lawsuit filer to get back to work. The restraining order will remain in effect until another hearing is held on the matter on July 8.

Judge Castel, who also possesses a beard, claimed one millimeter of hair exists on a man’s face if he goes just a day or two without shaving. The judge said he felt the beard ban policy was enforced only haphazardly by the NYPD.

“I am very relieved,” Syed said after the temporary restraining order was issued. “It was extremely humiliating.”

Before he was escorted out of police headquarters by two uniformed supervisors, he was ordered to turn over his gun and his badge before his peers.

The Muslim NYPD officer worked at police headquarters as a law clerk to administrative judges. Among his duties were preparing legal documents about disciplinary matters for review by the police commissioner.

There are reportedly exceptions to the beard policy for religious reasons, undercover officers and for medical reasons. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OHSA) requires annual gas mask fittings of officers and bans respirators from being issued to staffers with more than 1-inch of facial hair. Similar no beard policies are commonplace at fire departments.

The district judge also questioned Fleming about 37 beard policy exemption requests filed in December.

“Let’s play 20 questions,” Judge Castel said to the NYPD attorney. “The court is troubled by the fact it cannot get an answer.”

When making his ruling Judge Castel also referenced a similar decision in 2013 by a judge who heard the case of an Orthodox Jewish officer who sued the NYPD over beard length. During those hearings the police department said the policy is consistent with its emergency preparedness and counter-terrorism goals.

Masood Syed said he is hopeful his lawsuit against the NYPD will aid more than 100 police employees who also have religious reasons for wanting to grow a beard.

[Image by A Katz/Shutterstock.com]