Cosmetology students in Chicago, Michigan win key ruling in dispute over labor
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DETROIT — A judge has cleared the way for possibly thousands of people to be paid for work performed while they were students at a chain of cosmetology schools in Michigan and two other states.
Students who cleaned floors, restocked products and washed towels were performing tasks that weren’t directly related to their education at the Douglas J Aveda Institute, U.S. District Judge Judith Levy said Monday.
She said those students can be considered employees under federal law. The amount of money they might receive hasn’t been determined.
“They’re entitled to be compensated,” John Philo, an attorney for former students, said Wednesday. “The next step will be class certification and showing this is happening through all the locations. It could be as high as 5,000 to 6,000 students.”
The students claimed they could be sent home if they didn’t perform tasks at Douglas J hair styling clinics and that the work could last anywhere from 30 minutes to hours, depending on how busy it was.
Joy Eberline, who completed the program in 2012 and passed a state licensing exam, said there was always laundry — “load after load of towels, of course, washing them, drying them, folding them, putting them in the cabinets where they belong.”
The judge said students had “little ability or incentive to say no.”
Lawyers for Douglas J argued that manual labor was part of the education, which cost nearly $18,000. Levy disagreed.
“These tasks are beyond the pale of the contemplated cosmetology education and training the plaintiffs sought,” she said.
A message seeking comment was left with Douglas J’s attorney. Douglas J has schools in Ann Arbor, East Lansing, Grand Rapids, Royal Oak, Chicago and Knoxville, Tennessee. It also operates salons in Okemos, Ann Arbor and Rochester Hills.
Douglas J co-owner Scott Weaver is a member of the Michigan Board of Cosmetology, which helps oversee the industry in the state.