The state’s highest court Thursday let stand a ruling that the Boston Police Department was wrong when it fired six officers after their hair tested positive for drugs — the only evidence the agency had showing drug use.
“You can’t use hair testing as a stand-alone basis to terminate somebody,” said Alan H. Shapiro, who represents the officers in the state case. “I’m extremely heartened that the courts upheld that decision.”
A lower court and the state’s Civil Service Commission had said the department’s hair tests are not reliable enough to support terminating an employee without additional evidence. That conclusion was supported by an appeals court in October.
The Supreme Judicial Court on Thursday declined the police department’s request to review the lower court rulings.
The six officers had tested positive for cocaine, but they provided evidence to the Civil Service Commission showing the tests were wrong.
The lower courts, however, upheld the termination of four other officers who tested positive for drugs between 2001 and 2006.
There was a “a lack of general acceptance in the scientific and law enforcement communities, and a lack of universally recognized industry standards” when it comes to testing hair for drugs, the appeals court noted.
The mandatory hair test replaced a urine test and is given annually a month before officers’ birthdays. Officers who fail the test can agree to participate in a drug rehabilitation program and are then subject to random urine tests.
The test is also being challenged in federal court on the basis that it is discriminatory because black officers’ hair texture makes them more susceptible to tests that wrongly identify drug use. Five of the officers whose jobs are set to be restored under the appeals court ruling are black men.
Officers of color have been challenging the test for more than a decade.
The police department and the mayor’s office are “reviewing next steps and exploring options,” officials said in statements Thursday.
Attorneys representing the officers in the federal case say the Supreme Judicial Court’s decision not to hear from the department bolsters their cause.
“This is now a strong favorable finding,” said Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of the
Shapiro said the goal is to come up with an alternative to the hair test, which he said has recently led to a black officer testing positive for cocaine. That officer has said he never used drugs, Shapiro said.
“We need to negotiate a substitute for the use of the hair test as a basis to fire somebody when it’s not a legitimate way to take away somebody’s job,” Shapiro said.