Jestina Clayton, a refugee from her native Sierra Leone, moved to Centreville, Utah when she was 22 and began braiding hair at home while a student at Weber State University. At the time, she was told by state regulators that she didn’t need a cosmetology license if she wasn’t cutting hair or using chemicals, which her style of braiding does not require.
But in 2009, the state told her that she had to get a cosmetology license to continue her business, which requires 2,000 hours of school and about 18,000 in tuition, plus an exam, although Utah cosmetology schools don’t teach anything about African hair braiding. She protested to the state’s cosmetology board, saying that cosmetology, a vocation that involves chemical treatments and handling of skin and hair, was completely different than African hair braiding, an art that stretches back thousands of years. But her complaint was rejected and no legislator would amend the statute.
So Clayton took her case to the Virginia-based Institute for Justice, which litigates civil liberties cases like hers and filed suit to fight against what the group called “the state’s anti-competitive cosmetology regulations.” Still lobbyist groups like the Professional Beauty Association drew a line in the sand, insisting that Clayton be forced to comply with state law.
“We encourage regulation,” Brad Masterson, a PBA spokesman, told the New York Times. “Why should everyone else who’s doing hair have to conform to requirements and not her?”
The state argued that classes that speak to sterilization and diseases of the skin and scalp and sanitary issues were germane to what she was doing, plus regulations are good for everybody and help insure the public good. But U.S. District Court Judge David Sam wasn’t buying it, citing a 1915 Supreme Court ruling that defends her right to make an income while working from home. He said that the state was squeezing two different occupations into one mold.
“Most of the cosmetology curriculum is irrelevant to hair braiding. Even the relevant parts are at best, minimally relevant,” Sam said in his decision. He said that she wasn’t trying to change the state’s regulatory laws, but rather questioning their relation to her skill, which she learned as a child in Africa.
“I am so grateful. It has been a long time that I’ve been fighting with Utah just so that I could braid hair. I am relieved that the judge saw the facts of my situation and protected the right to earn a living when the other branches of government did not,” Clayton said in a statement. “I am looking forward to getting back to work and to my clients who had been so supportive of my fight.”