The Massachusetts Appeals Court has ruled that Boston police must restore the jobs of six officers fired after positive drug test results, a decision that questions the department’s reliance on the controversial practice of using hair samples to test for illegal substance use.
The decision, issued Friday, upholds the rulings of a lower court and the state’s Civil Service Commission, which both said that hair tests used by Boston police are not reliable enough to support an employment decision without additional evidence.
The six officers provided the commission with evidence to support their contention that they did not use cocaine.
The court’s decision upheld the termination of four other officers who tested positive for drugs between 2001 and 2006.
The practice has also been the subject of a separate challenge in federal court that claims that testing hair samples is discriminatory because the texture of black officers’ hair makes them more susceptible to inaccurate positive results.
Five of the officers whose jobs are in line to be restored by the appeals court ruling are black men who are also plaintiffs in the pending federal court case.
Attorneys representing the officers said the appeals court ruling is significant because it supports their arguments that the tests were unreliable.
“They basically said that hair testing, though it’s a useful tool, is not good enough to do what the department has been doing with it,” said Alan H. Shapiro, who represents the 10 officers in the state case.
The appeals court said the commission’s decision was “well supported,” saying the process used by the department had shifted its standards over the years to distinguish between ingestion and environmental exposure.
The decision also noted “a lack of general acceptance in the scientific and law enforcement communities, and a lack of universally recognized industry standards” for the practice.
Both sides can appeal the ruling to the Supreme Judicial Court. Boston police had no immediate comment Monday on the ruling.