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Lieutenant With Beard Sues City, LAPD Chief

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

A black Los Angeles police lieutenant who claims he has been denied a promotion because he wears a beard filed a civil rights lawsuit Wednesday against the city and Chief Bernard C. Parks.

The LAPD bans uniformed officers from wearing beards, but Lt. Kevin H. Williams has a medical exemption from that policy because he suffers chronic skin irritations and infections as a result of daily shaving.

Williams says that even though he has permission to wear a beard, department officials have retaliated against him, calling him an embarrassment to other black officers on the force and blocking his promotion to the rank of captain.

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Los Angeles Police Department spokesman Lt. Anthony Alba said, “We can’t comment on an existing lawsuit, particularly since we haven’t seen it.”

Williams, a 14-year veteran, contends that seven other officers who scored below him on the promotion exam have been appointed to captain.

“I have tried to work within the system, but the system has failed me,” Williams said. “I have been subjected to unwarranted disciplinary action. I have been kept from promoting merely because of my condition. Others who ranked lower than I on the captains list have promoted to captain. . . . This is wrong.”

William’s attorney, Carol Sobel, said a number of unjustified personnel complaints have been filed against him as a means of keeping him from being promoted.

“Since the certification of the most recent captains list,” according to the lawsuit, Williams “has been informed, both directly and indirectly, that he will not be promoted to captain as long as he has his beard.”

African American males are particularly susceptible to razor bumps, an inflammation known to dermatologists as pseudofolliculitis, which occurs when curly hair is shaved close. Sobel said that if Williams shaves every day, he gets infections and a variety of skin disorders.

“The problems he’s having are coming from top management because they don’t think it’s appropriate for an officer in uniform to have a beard,” she said. “Many of those in top management are African American, and their message to him is: ‘If I can shave, you can shave.’ The message being given to him is that he’s an embarrassment to African Americans and an embarrassment to the LAPD.”

The lawsuit calls for the LAPD to accommodate “medically justified” beards in accordance with the Americans With Disabilities Act.

“We are filing this lawsuit to send a message that the LAPD is not above the law and cannot defy federal and state anti-discrimination laws,” Sobel said. “The LAPD has used its internal discipline system for too long as a mechanism of discrimination and retaliation. This conduct has had a devastating impact . . . [on] Lt. Williams. The LAPD must be held accountable under the laws that it is sworn to enforce.”


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