Citing Unjust Regulations, Hair Braiders Sue Over Licensing Requirements

Jun 17, 2014

Shop owners Nivea Earl and Christine McLean, the two Arkansas plaintiffs in the lawsuit, give a hair braiding demonstration.

Arkansas is one of three states facing a lawsuit over the licensing requirements for African-style hair braiding.

The Virginia-based Institute for Justice has filed the lawsuit, saying the requirement that hair braiders get cosmetology licenses to practice is unjust and unreasonable.

Attorney Paul Avelar with the Institute says cosmetology courses violate a hair braider's right to economic freedom because it requires spending thousands of dollars on schooling that does not teach braiding or test on it.

"The constitution protects the right to earn an honest living free from irrational government regulation," says Avelar. 

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of two Arkansas hair braiders. One of them is Nivea Earl, who runs TwistyKinks in Jacksonville.

Earl says she lives in fear of fines and jail time for practicing what she calls a safe craft that does not require the use of any harmful chemicals. She says she can't afford schooling not relevant to her trade.

"I think it is just ridiculous that the cosmetology board requires us to have a cosmetology license when they do not teach hair braiding," says Earl. 

The other plaintiff in the lawsuit, Christine McLean, operates a shop in Little Rock. She also did not attend cosmetology school and has already received about $2,000 in fines and could be subject to 90 days in jail.

She says the craft has cultural and historical significance for her and she wants to be honest about her profession.

McLean says she understands the need to obtain a business license and keep her salon sanitary but that the licensing regulations go too far. 

The Arkansas Cosmetology Board says it does not comment on pending litigation. 

The Institute for Justice has already had court victories in Utah and California over regulations on hair braiding. 

The group also recently sued over a rule by the Board of Dental Examiners in Arkansas that prohibits orthodontists from providing routine teeth cleaning.