BOSTON- Seven black police officers who were fired after failing a drug test that relied on hair samples have sued the police department, alleging the screening method is racially biased.
The officers were fired between 2002 and 2004 after they tested positive for cocaine. Members of the force are tested each year.
The officers' lawyer, Rheba Rutkowski, who filed the lawsuit on Tuesday in Suffolk Superior Court, said the test results can be skewed by the texture of black people's hair, and by certain hair-care products.
"African-American hair is different from white hair because, among other things, it is coarser and thicker," Rutkowski said. "In fact, those properties make it far more likely to yield a false positive on a hair test than white hair."
Police spokesman Michael McCarthy wouldn't comment Wednesday on the fired officers' claims, saying the department hasn't been officially notified of the suit.
The drug testing program has been in place since 1999, McCarthy said.
If officers fail the hair test, they can agree to enter a rehabilitation program and are then subject to random urine tests. Several of the plaintiffs refused to participate in such a program.
The company that conducts the drug tests for the department, Psychemedics Corp. of Acton, said it has had no complaints from any of its hundreds of clients.
Last year, the U.S. Transportation Department and the Pentagon said they would not use hair, saliva or sweat tests for federal workers because they were concerned about fairness.
The seven officers want their jobs back and their names cleared, Rutkowski said.
"They also want compensation for everything they have lost, including damages for having lost their reputations," she said. "They also want this practice to stop."