NEW ORLEANS – It's white cotton thread, eyebrows and maybe a little facial hair.
Now it's wound up in a lawsuit over whether it's constitutional to require Louisiana threaders spend 750 hours and thousands of dollars to learn cosmetology techniques that have nothing to do with eyebrow threading.
That's the question Lata Jagtiani, owner of Threading Studio & Spa in Metairie, and threaders Ushaben Chudasama and Panna Shah are asking in their lawsuit against the Louisiana Board of Cosmetology. The case was filed on their behalf by the Institute for Justice, according to an organization press release.
“My business is my life," Jagtaini, a native of Gujarat, India, who came to the U.S. in 1985 and has lived in Louisiana since 1996, was quoted in the press release. "I started this salon to support my family and to pursue my American dream. But I had no idea it would have been easier for me to start a business in India than here. For some reason, the Cosmetology Board does not want my business to survive.”
Until recently, Jagtaini employed expert but unlicensed threaders with decades of experience, according to the press release. Then, this past June, the Louisiana Board of Cosmetology cracked down on Threading Studio & Spa, finding the business almost $5,000 forcing Jagtaini to fire Chudasama and Shah. Unable to find licensed estheticians who thread as well as Ushaben and Panna, Jagtiani says her business is on the line.
"Lata Jagtiani, the owner of the Threading Studio & Spa, reached out to us," Meagan Forbes, the Institute for Justice attorney representing the three plaintiffs, said during a Louisiana Record email interview.
While the exact origins of threading are debated, most agree the hair removal art is thousands of years old, remains popular in Asia, particularly in India, and fairly recently has picked up enthusiasts in Europe and North America. Cotton thread is doubled and twisted before it is rolled over areas of unwanted hair, usually on the face, plucking away hair by the follicle. It is quick, in expensive and, done by an expert, far less painful than waxing or tweezers, usually with better results.
Threading doesn't appear to be specifically mentioned in any detail on the Louisiana Board of Cosmetology website. Instead, anyone who wants to practice threading in Louisiana must obtain an esthetician license. That requires the applicant be at least 16 years old, made it through the 10th grade, completed 750 hours in an approved cosmetology school, pass the state board exams and pay all the required fees. The total cost is between $10,000 and $13,000, according to various published reports, a hefty sum to get a job the usually pays only little more than minimum wage.
Forbes said she is unaware of any explanation offered by the Louisiana Board of Cosmetology why threaders must endure hundreds of hours of training that does not include threading.
"Licensing laws like these are often passed under the guise of protecting public health and safety," Forbes said. "However, in reality, many of these laws only protect industry insiders from competition, and courts play a vital role in striking them down."
Institute for Justice is a nationally known public interest law firm with libertarian leanings, referring to itself on its website as "the National Law Firm for Liberty."
Sticking to those "Don't Tread on Me" values, the Institute for Justice has challenged Louisiana licensing requirements for florists and casket-makers and in 2012 ranked the Pelican state as the eighth most onerously licensed in the U.S.
"The Louisiana Constitution protects everyone’s right to earn an honest living free from irrational licensing laws," Forbes said. "We hope that the court will rule that the state’s licensing requirements for eyebrow threaders unreasonably infringe on their economic liberty and violate the Louisiana Constitution."
This isn't the first time the Institute for Justice has taken on allegedly unreasonable licensing requirements for threaders. The organization currently is involved in similar litigation in Arizona.
In 2009, the Institute for Justice took an interest in the two Texas threading business owners who sued the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation claiming that state's Constitution prohibits useless and expensive training requirements that don't protect the public. As in Louisiana now, Texas required 750 hours of training to become licensed.
That lawsuit made it to the Texas Supreme Court, which apparently had a difficult time deciding this case, which was argued before justices Feb. 27, 2014, but the decision wasn't handed down until June 26 of the following year. Justices in that case voted 6-3 against the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation.
Justice Jeffrey S. Boyd wrote in his concurring opinion that Texas’s threading regulations clearly are unconstitutional. "But the bar cannot be insurmountable, and if the application of any regulatory licensing scheme were ever constitutionally invalid, this one is," Justice Boyd wrote. "I need not repeat my colleagues’ descriptions, because everyone (including the State and both dissenting Justices) agrees that requiring eyebrow threaders to complete the current requirements necessary to obtain an esthetician’s license 'is obviously too much.'” Boyd did challenge the court’s use of a Texas-specific test, arguing that the state's threading regulations would fail under federal scrutiny as well.
What influence the now one-year-old Texas decision might have remains to be seen but the new Louisiana lawsuit will affect eyebrow threaders across the state.
"Many threaders are unable to waste time and money learning techniques that have nothing to do with eyebrow threading," Forbes said. "A victory in this case will give threaders across the state a fair shot at the American dream."
Louisiana Record requests to the Louisiana Board of Cosmetology for comment were not returned. However, board director Stephen Young, named a defendant the lawsuit along with the board's other members, told the Associated Press earlier this month that 250 of the required training hours are "for sanitation, health and cleanliness, and all of these other things that we must teach for people to run a healthy and clean shop."