Federal Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Regarding Tattoos

November 6, 2015

A recent decision by a federal judge in Chicago has upheld the right of the City of Chicago to require police officers to cover visible tattoos while on duty.  The Chicago Police Department implemented a Department policy that banned the display of tattoos while on duty.  The City said this policy was necessary to insure professionalism within the Police Department and to maintain public trust and respect which could negatively be impacted by the display of tattoos.  Three police officers brought suit against the City challenging the Department policy arguing the policy negatively impacted the freedom of speech of the officers.

The Court dismissed the lawsuit and found that the public display of tattoos could cause the public to question whether allegiance is to the Department or to the organizations that were represented by the tattoos.  The Court also held that professionalism was more important than the individual’s personal expression.  The Court found that the individual tattoos were a form of personal expression rather than a form of speech relating to matters of public policy or concern.

While this seems like a small case, it does have an impact upon the right of local governments to restrict personal expression in the form of tattoos or other activities like clothing or hair style.  The local government must show that the restriction is reasonable and related to the operations of the municipality to overcome a legal challenge.  This case shows that individuals do not have an unfettered right to personal expression while working for a local government. 

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