Officers vow to fight ruling

September 11, 2009 4:44:05 PM PDT
A judge tossed out what's become known as the "Beard lawsuit," but the Houston police officers who sued for the right to have facial hair, say their fight isn't over. The six police officers say they won't give up. They say they intend to file an appeal. When Houston police Sergeant Kenneth Perkins first heard of the judge's ruling, he says he was not surprised. He used another word.

"I am somewhat perplexed by the decision that was rendered by the judge," he said.

Judge Lee Rosenthal dismissed the three-year-old suit, which called into question HPD's policy limiting the jobs a police officer can do if they have facial hair. The judge concluded the policy does not violate state, federal or constitutional rights of officers.

The officers say still that it is discriminatory and limits their ability to earn a living.

"I will let others judge as to whether the city is racist, but it's a fact that this is discriminatory," said Sgt. Shelby Stewart with the Houston Police Department.

The crux of the case is a skin condition which the officers say keeps them from shaving. It's an ailment mostly endured by African-American men.

HPD says facial hair, though, prohibits an effective seal on gas masks should an officer need to wear one.

Of the judge's decision, Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt would say only, "Her decision will enable the Houston Police Department to continue to equip officers so they can safely do their jobs of protecting the public at all times."

The officers say this is not at all about officer safety, that they've trained with the masks, that their beards do not negatively affect use. They say this has become a fight for equality, a battle just like that which civil rights leaders for years have waged.

"I do not regret the sacrifice that I have made in order to stand up for the rights that brave African-American's have died for," said Sgt. Stewart.

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