Louisiana cosmetology board, inspectors, Vietnamese-American salon owners reach settlement in inspection bias suit

Article Source: Louisiana Record
Original Post Date: April 2, 2017


BATON ROUGE — The Louisiana State Board of Cosmetology, two salon inspectors affiliated with the Board, and the Vietnamese-American salon owners who brought suit against them have come to a settlement, the Associated Press reported March 9.

The settlement came three weeks after U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson decided not to get rid of the lawsuit brought against the Louisiana State Board of Cosmetology, which he ruled on Feb. 20.

“The details of this settlement have not yet been publicly disclosed, but they should be,” Melissa Landry, executive director of Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch, told the Louisiana Record via email. “The Louisiana State Board of Cosmetology is a public body, and any settlement that may have been reached will be paid with taxpayer money. We deserve to know.”

According to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana March 20, 2015 decision, the four Vietnamese-American plaintiffs in Thoa T. Ngyuen, et al vs. The Louisiana State Board of Cosmetology, et al, the four plaintiffs, Nguyen, Hien Hoang,Uan Pham and Mai Thi Nguyen, alleged that the defendants, which included Louisiana State Board of Cosmetology Executive Director Steve Young, as well as Frances Hand, Sherrie Stockstill and Margaret Keller, discriminated against the salon owners and went against 42 U.S.C. 1983 and the 14th Amendment. According to the March 20, 2015 and Feb. 20, 2017 decisions, the plaintiffs also alleged ‘false imprisonment.’

The AP reported that salons run by Vietnamese owners make up 9 percent of salons that the Board watches over, but that those salons ‘paid at least 80 percent of all Board-imposed fines in each year from 2011 to 2013.’

According to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana Feb. 20 decision, Thoa Nguyen alleged that while Stockstill inspected Nguyen’s shop, Exotic Nails, Stockstill did not allow Nguyen or her workers to leave for about two hours. The Feb. 20 decision also says that the defendants affirmed this allegation, but said that doing so was ‘permissible under the regulatory scheme and reasonable under the law.’

Jackson disagreed that holding Nguyen and her employees inside the salon for the two hours during the inspection was ‘reasonable as a matter of law.’

According to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana March 20, 2015 decision, Jackson ‘dismissed with prejudice’ the plaintiffs’ allegation of ‘false imprisonment’ that they brought against Keller. In that March 2015 decision, Jackson also threw out every allegation against Young and Hand ‘with prejudice.’

“Further, the lawsuit allegations against the cosmetology board are deeply troubling, and this is not the first time they’ve been in the news for questionable practices and procedures,” Landry said.

According to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana’s February 2017 decision, there were originally nine Vietnamese and Asian-American plaintiffs that brought forth the lawsuit on Feb. 6, 2014. That decision also said that allegations against 19 defendants and allegations made by five plaintiffs were dropped throughout the case.

The AP reported that Board and agency inspector attorneys said nothing could prove that there was any bias toward specific racial groups in how the Board regulated salons.

Robert Burns, a blogger who founded Sound Off Louisiana, told the Louisiana Record via email that he believes the Board couldn’t have done much else besides settling.

“I believe the Board had little choice but to settle this matter given that, in the final court hearing leading up to trial, Federal Judge Brian Jackson stated in no uncertain terms that constitutional rights were violated,” Burns said. “That was the case from the alleged actions of inspector Sherrie Stockstill. It’s my understanding that Ms. Stockstill resigned the week after settlement was reached. The plaintiffs were largely seeing oversight as relief and not monetary damages. I expect legislation to be filed in the upcoming session which will shed more light on the terms of the settlement.”

Burns wrote in his Sound Off Louisiana that former U.S. Congressman Joseph Cao called the Louisiana State Board of Cosmetology’s practices into question in a statement to the Senate Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee. In that testimony, which Burns provided video of, Cao said that in what he has seen with the Board, ‘there are many cultural, as well as structural problems that needs to be investigated, especially by this committee or, whatever, by other relevant committee of the Senate.’

Cao also added in that testimony that the Board does not consider the law when it acts, and he called for the Board hearings to be observed under Louisiana administrative law.

Burns said he has problems with the way the Board operates as well.

“The actions of this particular board are reprehensible and costly to taxpayers, and their so-called hearings provide a whole new meaning to the phrase Kangaroo Court,” Burns said. “The legal-defense costs for this litigation were staggering, and in all the hearings I have attended, I’ve yet to see one single hearing that involved genuine health and safety issues for the public. The closest one entailed a dog running around loose in a salon, but that’s been it.”