African-Style Hair Braiders Lose Missouri Licensing Appeal

By George Khoury, Esq. on January 12, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

For African-style hair braiders in the state of Missouri, the recent Eighth Circuit decision striking down the challenge to the state's licensing requirement means that more work is going to be needed.

While hair braiders do not cut hair, the court and state believe that what they do squarely falls within the state's legal definition of a barber or cosmetologist. In supporting the need for hair braiders to be licensed as barbers or cosmetologists, the state relied on consumer protection and health risks, including inflammation, infection, and hair loss.

What's This Case Really About?

The plaintiffs in this case claim that requiring African-style hair braiders to be licensed as barbers or cosmetologists is a violation of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. They assert that the law is not rationally related to any legitimate government interest.

However, as the appellate court clearly explained, the state did present evidence that the licensing requirement is rationally related to the important governmental interest of ensuring public safety and health, and protecting consumers. While the hair braiders may believe that the requirements for licensing, including 1,000 or 1,500 hours of training/education, are unnecessary and excessive, the appellate court did not agree.

Failed Legislation

Given the excessive requirement that hair braiders be licensed as cosmetologists or barbers, a bill was introduced last year to loosen the licensing requirement for hair braiders. Interestingly, the new law would have required license holders to take and pass a self-administered exam. Unfortunately for the braiders, the bill failed.

Surprisingly, the Missouri Association of Cosmetology Schools offered to provide a 500 hour program for hair braiders, but that was declined. And as an interesting aside, a case from a few years back out of Dallas saw a similar issue litigated and was decided differently.

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