The New York Police Department (NYPD) Thursday reinstated a Muslim police officer who was suspended for not shaving his beard, according to court documents filed by the city. The department also agreed to review its no-beard policy.
Masood Syed, who works as a law clerk for the NYPD's Deputy Commissioner of Trials, was restored to full-duty and permitted to keep his one-inch beard, which he wears as a Sunni Muslim, according to court filings and a statement from the law firm representing him, Beldock Levine & Hoffman.
“I’m excited to be back at work,” Syed said in a statement. “It seems like the department has taken the crucial first step in addressing an important and growing concern of officers of many different faiths.”
Syed, 32, filed a class-action lawsuit on June 22 in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, challenging the constitutionality of the NYPD’s ban on beards. The day before, Syed was suspended without pay and stripped of his badge and gun for refusing to shave his beard. But a federal judge ordered the NYPD to continue paying Syed’s salary and benefits, at least until a preliminary injunction hearing which was scheduled for July 8.
Syed was told in writing on June 20 to grow his facial hair no longer than one millimeter, court papers said, or roughly .04 inches.
The NYPD prohibits beards of any length, though unwritten policy permits them up to one millimeter in length for religious accommodations, Syed's lawsuit said. Syed’s religious accommodation request was pending when he was suspended, court papers said.
According to a letter sent Thursday by the city Law Department to the judge, the NYPD will conduct a 120-day internal review of part of the department’s patrol guide, which prohibits beards, and its policies and practices of how the NYPD assesses requests for beard accommodations.
The letter said Syed, who is also a lawyer, would not be disciplined for his beard during the duration of the department’s internal review.
A spokesman for the the city Law Department, which handles litigation against New York City government agencies, told NBC News in a statement that “the parties are continuing their discussions regarding all aspects of this matter and working towards a resolution.”
Syed, a Pakistani American, received a medical accommodation for his facial hair after joining the NYPD in 2006 and a religious accommodation two years later, his lawsuit said. Looking to avoid any trouble, he also signed a required document in 2011, saying he would keep his beard no longer than one millimeter, even though other officers had beards that were longer, according to court papers.
For four years, Syed continued wearing his beard a half-inch to one-inch in length, his lawsuit said. August last year was the first time a supervisor told Syed he was out of compliance with NYPD policy, his lawsuit alleged.
This isn't the first time an NYPD officer has sued the department over its no-beard policy. In 2012, the NYPD fired probationary officer Fishel Litzman for refusing to shave his one-inch beard he kept as a member of the Chabad Lubavitch Jewish Community, court papers said.
Litzman filed a federal lawsuit, arguing that the NYPD had violated his First Amendment rights. The department countered that Litzman could not keep the beard because new officers must shave at least once a year for certification on an MSA millennium model respirator, according to Syed's lawsuit.
But U.S. District Court Judge Harold Baer ruled in 2013 that the policy violated Litzman's right to practice his religion and said the department's ban on beards wasn't enforced uniformly, court papers said.
Litzman was given back his job and continues to work for the NYPD with a one-inch beard allowed under a religious accommodation, Syed's lawsuit said.