LAWSUIT: Veteran Black LAPD Officer Forced to Resign after Enduring Racial and Disability Discrimination, Claim Lawyers

Via Public Domain Pictures
Public Domain

By Bryan Miller

LOS ANGELES, CA – Nathaniel Bender, who West Coast Employment Lawyers describes as a former “decorated officer with the Los Angeles Police Department,” was denied a medical exemption, and then forced to resign.

Bender, said the law firm, couldn’t shave because of a diagnosis of Pseudo folliculitis barbae in September of 2022. The ailment, said WCEL, is “a skin condition that disproportionately affects Black men and is painful when shaving, and can cause bumps and rashes on the face, and even scarring.”

According to WCEL, the LAPD, which has a “policy that officers’ faces must be kept clean-shaven,” began “a retaliatory campaign of racial and disability discrimination and harassment, forcing him to resign (after they) “rebuffed his requests for an exemption from shaving his face.”

West Coast Employment Lawyers stated the forced resignation led to Bender launching a complaint in the Los Angeles County Superior Court, “alleging disability and racial discrimination, and wrongful constructive termination, meaning he quit because his employer created intolerable working conditions.”

According to his attorney Ron Zambrano, Bender “dedicated his life to the LAPD” starting in April of 2010 and, “As a Black man, he had to fight his way into the department, enduring all sorts of discrimination but he powered through because he believed so deeply in the mission to protect and serve.”

Zambrano added, “Now, the agency is acting not only in callous disregard of the law but has turned its back so shamefully on a devoted police officer who suffers from a disability and merely wanted a small concession to remain on the job he loved. The department instead harassed him into submission, forcing him to resign. It’s despicable.”

West Coast Employment Lawyers charged LAPD “has a history of making exemptions in certain cases,” noting,  “In 2022, the LAPD updated its policies to include a religious exemption, allowing Sikhs, for example, to wear their turbans on the job.” and, “The New York Police Department instituted a similar policy in 2016.”

However, they report, “No such effort was made to accommodate Bender.”

According to the filed complaint, “Bender was contacted by the department’s Medical Services Division” on Oct. 5, 2022, and they advised him “that they would conduct their own examination to determine if he was eligible for an exemption, despite having already provided a note from his doctor.”

WCEL lawyers said three weeks later when Bender was seen by the Medical Services Division that they told him “that he needed to provide his medical records, yet his own doctor told him he was under no obligation to hand them over as it would be an invasion of privacy.”

However, according to the lawsuit, “MSD’s doctor ultimately told Bender he would approve the medical exemption.”

NewsRoom wrote, “Around the end of 2022, Bender ended up providing the records to his superiors and was told there was no further need to be in touch with the department’s doctors.”

According to the lawsuit. however, “around April 24, 2023, Bender received an email from MSD” which stated “if he wanted an exemption, he needed to provide medical records, and that if he was no longer interested, “you will have to follow policy in regards to being ‘clean shaven.’”

West Coast Employment Lawyers said, “Bender replied, puzzled, given he had already been told his exemption would be approved and had provided his records,” adding, “The confusion and intimidation continued with Bender receiving an email from MSD on May 1, 2023, telling him he needed to meet with the agency’s chief physician.”

West Coast Employment Lawyers explained that months later “in September 2023, Bender received a distressing letter that read, in part, ‘Please note that LAPD is unable to continue temporarily accommodating you, as there is no medical certification on file approving your request for a Shaving Exemption. You are therefore required to be in compliance with LAPD grooming standards and requirements.’”

Attorney Zambrano stated that throughout the incident “Bender was subjected to a repeated pattern of harassment, with the agency once even sending uniformed officers in a patrol car to his home while he was on leave under the pretext of a ‘wellness check.’”

According to West Coast Employment Lawyers, “Bender was forced to resign in November 2023 after exhausting his efforts to remedy the situation and as a result of repeated and ongoing discrimination.”

Bender responded, “I’m absolutely heartbroken,” adding, “When I first came onto the job, a captain asked me how I was going to prove to them that I deserved to have a chance, and I told them I believe I can change the world, and I shed a tear because, for the first time in my life, I believed that I could be somebody, be the type of man that I admire.”

Bender would also state he “genuinely believed in what I was becoming a part of…and it turned out to be just a dream, all of it was ripped away from me. I thought I had rights.”

“It’s not the first time the LAPD has been hit with such allegations. Last year, a Black officer cited in a complaint that he felt harassed and discriminated against after he had been granted a medical exemption from shaving. The man suffered from the same skin condition as Bender,” said WCEL.

“It’s been more than 40 years since the Maryland Court of Special Appeals upheld an award of back pay to a University of Maryland police officer who was not allowed to wear a beard even though he suffered from the same Pseudo folliculitis barbae skin condition. The ruling found that a ban on beards without including medical exemptions was racially discriminatory under state law,” added WCEL.

West Coast Employment Lawyers said the ruling was the subject of “[a]1990 New York Times article” which “highlighted the conundrum under a headline that read, “Beards on Policeman Become a Civil Rights Issue.” But “beard bans persist at law enforcement agencies across the country, with numerous lawsuits having been filed over the years.”

WCEL added, “In 2007, four Black Houston, Texas, police officers sued the agency over the ban. Another lawsuit was filed in 2020 by the only Black officer on the force in the town of Stow, Ohio, after he, too, alleged harassment and discrimination for failing to be clean-shaven despite providing a doctor’s note for his medical condition.

“More recently, a veteran officer with the Nassau County Police Department in New York sued after first being permitted an exemption from the agency’s beard policy due to his medical condition then later having it revoked, followed by alleged discrimination and harassment.”

About The Author

Bryan Miller is a fourth year political science - public service major at UC Davis. He has a desire to pursue law in the future and has a large interest in the justice system and constitutional law. In his free time Bryan likes to spend time outdoors fishing and hiking.

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