Houston Goes to Battle Stations over Police No-Beard Policy

May 29, 2008 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - The Houston City Council has approved a legal budget of up to $150,000 to defend itself against a lawsuit by four African American police officers who allege the city's police department rule against men wearing beards is discriminatory.

An Associated Press news report said council members spent more than an hour at a meeting this week talking about the city policy and questioning whether the police department’s no-facial hair rule discriminates against men who cannot shave on medical or religious grounds. Councilman Ron Green contended during the meeting, according to the report: “…. we’re basically saying we want new police officers, but we don’t want police officers with beards. We are struggling to get police officers on the street. Is it the type of issue that we want to spend resources and money on?”

The men who filed the lawsuit were reassigned to plain-clothes duty because of their facial hair. The news account said the officers complained the prohibition on beards and goatees is unfair for men with pseudofolliculitis barbae, a skin condition which primarily affects Afircan American ment that can cause severe irritation, rashes, and ingrown hair.

The lawsuit charged the four plaintiffs suffered from diminished status and pay because of the policy, but officials responded that the officers’ reassignments were not demotions.

The police department instituted the policy in 1993 so uniformed officers would look conservative and professional, according to a city memo. In addition, the memo said that after the September 2001 terrorist attacks, gas masks were issued to uniformed officers and beards prevent an adequate seal.

The lawsuit is available here .