College life in Philly

No-shave November? Officer files lawsuit against Penn over beard issues

The lawsuit claims a sergeant told the officer to ‘shave or go home.’

Penn police officer poses with skyline. Please note: mustache.

Penn police officer poses with skyline. Please note: mustache.

Penn Division of Public Safety

Update: 1:15 p.m.

A former campus police officer filed a federal racial discrimination lawsuit Monday against the University of Pennsylvania, claiming fallout from a policy forbidding officers from having facial hair led to him losing his job.

The officer, Joseph Lewis, has a condition called Pseudofolliculitis Barbae, according to the lawsuit. It’s an ingrown hair issue, with bumps forming every time you shave. The racial discrimination part comes in because the condition is much more likely to affect black males, according to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology, and Lewis is black.

A year ago, Lewis received a merit commendation from the Penn Division of Public Safety but by early 2016 had lost his job. And according to the lawsuit, his removal from Penn’s police force had to do with his skin condition.

Last August, he applied for a waiver to keep a quarter-inch thick beard. Lewis claimed shortly after he started receiving hostile treatment from his superiors and heard from officers his waiver was disfavored by people “from the top.” The lawsuit states he was denied overtime requests, forced to walk when other officers drove cars and had his car checked in an attempt to find issues with him. At one point, according to the lawsuit, a sergeant once told him to “shave or go home.”

A spokesperson for Penn said the university does not comment about pending litigation. Lewis’ firing happened earlier this year, and according to the lawsuit the police department dismissed him over issues with family leave and failing to update his personal information.

“He had been there for years,” said Timothy Creech, Lewis’ lawyer, “and then they piled onto him with all these things they came up with, one after the other.”

Lewis claims the action to be retaliatory. He’s seeking an undisclosed amount of money.

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