Suit: Drop ‘good moral character’ cosmetologist requirement

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Is good moral character required to wax eyebrows and give facials?

In the state of Pennsylvania it is, and two women denied licenses to work as cosmetologists because they ran afoul of that regulation are challenging the law in court.

Courtney Haveman and Amanda Spillane filed suit on Tuesday, with the help of non-profit law firm the Institute for Justice, claiming the state’s good moral character requirement for cosmetologists is unfair and unconstitutional.

The women both suffered from addictions in the past, which led to criminal records, they said.

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Haveman said her addiction to alcohol led to a number of misdemeanor infractions that inspired her to turn around her life. She has been sober for over five years, got married, had a baby and now mentors women who struggle with alcohol abuse.

She decided to pursue a career in cosmetology, completed beauty school and had a job lined up at a salon. So she was shocked when she learned her license application was denied, citing her moral character.

“I made mistakes in my past, I paid my dues and I had learned and grown from them,” she said at a press conference Wednesday announcing the lawsuit.

Spillane said her addictions led her down a path of criminal behavior and she was incarcerated for burglary. While she was locked up, she said she went through extensive rehabilitation, became a Christian and changed her life. When she was released on good behavior, she worked in fast food until she decided to be a cosmetologist.

“I thought cosmetology was a career I could pursue despite having a record,” she said, adding that the prison where she was incarcerated taught cosmetology to inmates. She, too, had a job lined up at a salon.

“It is very frustrating and upsetting to know that you’re a different person and that nobody would give you a chance,” she said.

Under the Pennsylvania Constitution, laws prohibiting people from working must actually protect the public. The women’s lawyers say that isn’t the case for cosmetologists, that good moral character has nothing to do with skincare, painting nails or cutting hair.

“In fact, there is no requirement like this for barbers, so it requires good moral character to tweeze a hair, not to shave one,” said Andrew Ward, one of the lawyers with the Institute for Justice.

Pennsylvania requires good moral character for a number of jobs, ranging from landscape architect to poultry technician.

“People deserve a second chance, and when you deny it to them, they are more likely to wind up committing more crimes,” said Erica Smith, an attorney with the Institute for Justice.

Gov. Tom Wolf commissioned a review of occupational licensing board requirements back in 2017, and the department of state’s findings were released in June.

Among them was a determination that the requirement to demonstrate good moral character is “loosely defined” and “there is the potential for it to be applied unevenly across boards.” It recommends the administration examine the impact of criminal history bans and good moral character requirements.

Wolf’s spokesman said Wednesday he couldn’t comment on the lawsuit, but said the governor believes Pennsylvania must be a place where people can put their skills, experience and education to work.

Emails and phone messages seeking comment from the state board of cosmetology and the bureau of professional and occupational affairs were left.

For Haveman and Spillane, their goals aren’t complicated, saying they just want to make an honest living.

“I just feel like there needs to be opportunities for people in our situation, to have a career so they can provide for themselves and not have to rely on the state or other people,” Spillane said.

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