Saturday, November 16, 2013

Fishel Litzman, Hasidic NYPD recruit, suffered religious discrimination over beard: judge 

Fishel Litzman with his daughters (left to right) Chaya Muska, 10, Chana, 7, Itasara, 9, and wife Miriam Litzman. Litzman was fired from the NYPD's Police Academy when he refused to comply with the requirement to shave his beard, which has religious significance, down to 1 millimeter in length.

A rookie Hasidic cop fired by the NYPD for refusing to trim his beard was the victim of religious discrimination, a federal judge said Friday.

The decision appears to pave the way for Fishel Litzman’s reinstatement.

 “I want people to know that you can follow your dreams and never have to compromise your religion,” Litzman, 39, told the Daily News outside his home in Monsey. “That’s what makes this county so great.”
Litzman was fired in June 2012, a month shy of graduating from the Police Academy. He said he got booted because he refused to adhere to department standards limiting beards to no more than 1 millimeter in length.

His lawyer, Nathan Lewin, filed suit on his behalf, arguing that the city came up with an “after-the-fact rationalization” by saying facial hair would prevent him wearing a gas mask with a proper fit. The city at the time said Litzman would put himself and others at risk if he needed to wear the mask in an emergency.

But Federal Judge Harold Baer Friday upheld Litzman’s constitutional claim, criticized police and told his attorney to submit within 10 days a “proposed order.”

“We’re going to ask that he be reinstated,” said Lewin, a legal heavyweight who has fought and won beard battles on behalf of observant Jews with the Army and Air Force. “We hope this is the beginning of the end of the (NYPD’s) refusal to grant full religious accommodations to applicants who may not, for religious reasons, trim their beards.”

The NYPD said it’s reviewing Baer’s decision. A spokeswoman for the Law Department said, “We respectfully disagree with the court and are considering our options.”

Baer, in his decision, agreed that the NYPD would suffer an “undue hardship” if every officer wasn’t capable of wearing a gas mask that seals tightly against the face, without facial hair interference. But he also noted that the NYPD could not provide documentation that the 1-millimeter restriction is an official rule. The NYPD failed to enforce the restriction against cops not granted an exemption, such as undercover officers, he added.

Litzman, a father of five, who has been working as a paramedic since getting canned, says his goal since that day has remained the same.

“The primary objective was always to get back into the academy and do what I always dreamed of doing,” he said.


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