Shahzad Hashmi, a Muslim JCPD officer, has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging discrimination related to his “manicured beard” and names Deputy Chief Edgar Martinez as a defendant – the second in as many years alleging Martinez discriminated against an officer based on race or religion.
For Jersey City Police Department (JCPD) officer Shahzad Hashmi, a Pakistani-American and observant Sunni Muslim, having a beard is permitted via religious accommodation, but a dispute over the facial hair being “manicured” is now at the center of a federal civil rights lawsuit.
The complaint names the City of Jersey City, Police Chief Mike Kelly, and Deputy Chief Edgar Martinez as defendants – the second in as many years alleging Martinez discriminated against an officer based on race or religion.
Shahzad Hashmi Lawsuit
Hashmi obtained a religious accommodation in July 2017 to wear his beard at one-half inch as an “expression of his sincerely held religious beliefs” and was instructed to keep his beard “neat and clean,” according to the complaint.
On March 23, 2018, the JCPD changed its policy requiring that, where a religious accommodation exists, “a beard may be grown up to one-half inch, un-manicured.” Soon thereafter, Hashmi alleges that he was “repeatedly harassed and disciplined” for maintaining a beard that was too “manicured.”
Specifically, Hashmi claims that on May 21, 2018, he was ordered by then-Captain Martinez, North District commander at the time, to “provide an explanation for why [his] beard is groomed.” The Muslim officer supposedly responded that it was “necessary for [him] to adhere to [his] religion appropriately,” adding that he “groom[s his] beard in a manner that is ‘neat and clean’ as required by [his] accommodation,” per details from the lawsuit.
Following the encounter with Martinez, Hashmi alleges that he “continued to be harassed by his supervisors” because his beard was “groomed” – leading him to file an internal Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaint on May 25, 2018, and proclaim “that such harassment is a pretext for discrimination and an attempt to force me to shave my beard in violation of my religious beliefs.”
According to the lawsuit, Hashmi repeatedly asked how to maintain a “neat and clean” beard that was also “un-manicured,” but was “nevertheless reprimanded, disciplined, and punished” multiple times after filing the EEO complaint. Specifically, it’s stated that less than two weeks after filing, on June 6, 2018, Hashmi received an oral reprimand as a result of his beard being “manicured.” Days later, on June 14, 2018, Martinez allegedly told the officer that “if he did not adhere to [un-manicured policy], he would be written up each and every day thereafter.”
Additionally, Hashmi contends that the city’s Dept. of Human Resources was unhelpful & non-responsive to his concerns regarding the religious accommodation violation & potential retaliation. After being interviewed on July 12, 2018, by an attorney who was hired to independently investigate his EEO complaint, Hashmi says he has yet to receive any follow-up despite repeated requests.
Apparently the closest thing to a follow-up, according to the lawsuit, was an encounter on July 20, 2018, in which Martinez allegedly confronted Hashmi and essentially said that he was not allowed to shave during the work week and that he’d have no problem “knocking [Hashmi] over” (punishing him) for the beard.
Eventually, on October 26, 2018, the JCPD changed its policy again, removing the “un-manicured” terminology, as stated in the lawsuit. Despite the reversal, Hashmi claims he “has never been compensated for the injuries he sustained during the over six months of harassment and discipline,” and that he “continues to fear retaliation.”
Of note, Hashmi is being represented by attorney Luna Droubi of Beldock Levine & Hoffman LLP. The Fulop Administration was not reached for comment on this story because they don’t respond to emails.
Edgar Martinez focus of second discrimination lawsuit
As for Martinez, Hashmi’s lawsuit represents the second discrimination lawsuit, on the basis of race or religion, filed against the city in which the former North District commander has been named a defendant and prominently mentioned. Last year, JCPD officers John Bado and George Manuel filed a lawsuit claiming Martinez, who is Hispanic, had an “anti-white” racial bias which negatively impacted their careers.
Bado and Manuel claim they were subjected to “disparate treatment” and a “hostile work environment” – which included the “undermining of their authority and responsibility as senior officers; denial of overtime opportunities; punitive transfers and scheduling; the refusal to investigate their complaints; intense and unwarranted surveillance; and various other petty acts of harassment.”
Of note, it’s widely known that Martinez wants to replace Mike Kelly as police chief and has the 100% support of Councilman-at-Large Daniel Rivera. The Reed Street video didn’t knock Kelly out as chief, but it remains to be seen if a second lawsuit will knock Martinez out of Mayor Steven Fulop’s consideration for his next police chief – if and when that ever happens.