Lewin & Lewin, LLP, on Thursday 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 Fishel Litzman, a Probationary Police Officer who was discharged less than one month before he completed six months of training at the Police Academy because he refused, for religious reasons, to trim his beard. The opening paragraph of the Complaint states:
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. Although Mr. Litzman advised the New York City Police Department (“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 NYPD directive that he trim his beard once – although he would not be required to trim it after his graduation – is “targeted” at conscientious religious observers who will refuse to commit such a violation even one time. The “accommodation” purportedly provided by the NYPD would not satisfy the federal and local legal standards governing religious discrimination in employment if Mr. Litzman initiated proceedings before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or before 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.
The Complaint seeks an injunction to restore Mr. Litzman to the position he was in when he received his termination notice on June 8, 2012, and to compel the NYPD to give him a religious accommodation from its no-beard rule. The Complaint alleges that there are uniformed NYPD officers who wear beards, and that the order to Mr. Litzman to trim his beard as a condition of completing training at the Police Academy “targets” religious observers in violation of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. The Complaint also alleges that the
NYPD order to Mr. Litzman violated Article I, Section 3 of the New York Constitution because it is not justified by any overriding governmental interest.
On filing of the Complaint, the case was assigned to United States District Judge Harold Baer.
During his attendance at the Police Academy Mr. Litzman performed at or near the top of his class of more than 850 Probationary Police Officers. In a letter of this date to Corporation Counsel Michael A. Cardozo, Mr. Litzman’s counsel requested that, in view of his outstanding record at the Academy, Mr. Litzman be immediately reinstated at the Academy so that he could graduate with his class and begin service as a uniformed police officer promptly 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, Mr. Litzman’s lead counsel, said, “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.”
Mr. Lewin also sent a letter to the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice noting that NYPD’s termination of Mr. Litzman because of his religious observance violates the non-discrimination provision of the Safe Streets Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3789d(c), and its implementing regulations.