HOUSTON – Four police officers have filed a federal civil rights lawsuit claiming the Houston Police Department's facial hair policy is discriminatory.
The officers say the prohibition on beards and goatees is unfair for men with pseudofolliculitis barbae, a skin condition that reacts negatively to shaving. The condition primarily affects black men and can cause severe irritation, rashes and ingrown hair.
The lawsuit filed Tuesday says the men were reassigned to plain-clothes duty because of their facial hair. Sgts. Shelby Stewart and Kenneth Perkins said they wear goatees because of the skin condition.
"When they took us out of uniform and told us we couldn't work second jobs in uniform, that meant that we had to take a financial hit that most officers would not take," said Stewart, a 26-year department veteran.
Craig Ferrell, a lawyer for the police department, denied any discrimination but said the policy will be changed.
The ban on beards and goatees was adopted in 2005 because officers with facial hair cannot properly seal gas masks in the event of bioterrorism attacks, he said.
Ferrell said the department will modify its rules to try to accommodate officers with skin conditions by identifying uniformed positions that can be performed with facial hair. The officers who cannot shave would use special gas masks that that can be worn over a beard, he said.
Officers Adrian White and Raul Collins are also plaintiffs in the lawsuit. The City of Houston is also named as a defendant.
The lawsuit alleges diminished status and pay because of the policy, but Ferrell said the officers' reassignments were not demotions.