Veteran NYPD officer Masood Syed says that he was suspended without pay earlier this week after he refused to shave his beard to one millimeter—even though he's maintained a longer beard for "nearly all" of his decade on the force. A practicing Muslim from Queens, Syed has filed a federal class-action lawsuit alleging that the NYPD's beard policy—an amalgamation of guidebook rules and unwritten accommodations—violates his Constitutional rights.

Former NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly revised the department's patrol guide in 2008 to prohibit facial hair, making exceptions for undercover officers and—on a case-by-case basis—cops seeking religious or medical accommodation. Those exempt from the no-beard policy are often allowed facial hair up to one millimeter in length, according to the suit.

"It's a bizarre thing where [officers] are limited to a beard of one millimeter by this unwritten policy," Syed's attorney Luna Droubi told us. "If you're undercover and you want to fit in with a biker gang or do Muslim surveillance, that's fine. But if it's for a religious accommodation, that's not okay."

Captain James Kobel of the Equal Employment Opportunity office allegedly told Syed last summer that his beard was against policy, as it exceeded one millimeter (the equivalent of one day's stubble, according to Droubi). Syed refused, prompting a series of meetings with superiors. Syed made a formal exemption request in December—maintaining his beard all the while—and didn't hear anything more on the matter until this week, when Kobel gave him an ultimatum, according to the suit.

An emergency hearing was held in Manhattan federal court on Wednesday, the NY Times reports. The NYPD has been ordered to keep paying Syed—who's assigned to a unit that handles internal disciplinary proceedings—until his next court date on July 8th. Ultimately, Syed hopes the suit will protect the rights of about 100 officers seeking religious accommodation.

In June 2013, a Hasidic police cadet alleged that he had been fired for refusing to shave his beard. Cadet Fishel Litzman sued the NYPD, and a judge found the policy in violation of the First Amendment.

The NYPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment. However Lawrence Byrne, NYPD deputy commissioner for legal matters, told the NY Times that the beard policy was in accordance with federal guidelines for gas masks. “We remain the No. 1 terrorist target in the world,” he said. “And we need to have all 36,000 of our officers able to respond.”

But Droubi says that her client was certified to wear a gas mask, despite his beard. "I can't speak to why they are suddenly making this a big deal," she said. "But there's a lot of inherent discrimination that can be masked under words that sound neutral."

"The NYPD in some ways represents the city, and it's not representing the city accurately if it's not allowing all of its Muslim, Sikh and Jewish officers to present their religious beliefs," she added.