The Hasidic police cadet who claimed he was fired by the NYPD because he refused to shave off his beard has filed a lawsuit against the city accusing the NYPD of religious discrimination. Fishel Litzman, 38, says he will forgo monetary damages if he is allowed back into the police department. “This fellow just wants to be a police officer,” said Litzman's attorney Nathan Lewin in a letter to Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo.
Litzman was a month away from receiving his shield when he was fired by the NYPD for unspecified reasons. His lawyer says the NYPD knew that Litzman wouldn't shave the beard when he first took the police exam and applied: “He said from the outset it was a matter of religious observance. He never made a secret of it.” Despite continual high test scores, Litzman was continually written up for failing “to maintain personal appearance.”
NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said they tried to accomodate Litzman, minimally: “The NYPD makes reasonable accommodations in this regard, permitting beards for religious purposes to be kept to 1 (millimeter) in length." Manhattan BP Scott Stringer, Councilman David G. Greenfield, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and Assemblyman Dov Hikind have all come to Litzman's defense. De Blasio said in a statement:
The NYPD does a tremendous job protecting our city, but it has done itself a profound disservice by disqualifying Fishel Litzman. By many accounts, Mr. Litzman is one of the most impressive candidates in his class, and should not be barred from serving on account of his religious observance. We can only maintain the best-qualified police force in the world if we evaluate candidates like Mr. Litzman on their merits. I urge the Department to reconsider his candidacy.
Greenfield is asking NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly to personally review this decision and reinstate Mr. Litzman to the Academy, based on federal protections of religious beliefs: “I know that the NYPD prides itself on its diversity. That diversity needs to include tolerance for religious beliefs. By all accounts, Mr. Litzman would make a stellar member of the NYPD, especially as the department works to reflect the changing demographics of the city."