By MICHAEL KUNZELMAN
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — On Feb. 21, a federal judge refused to dismiss a lawsuit that accuses Louisiana state regulators of racially discriminating against a group of Vietnamese-American nail salon owners.
U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson’s ruling clears the way for a jury trial next month in Baton Rouge for the salon owners’ case against the Louisiana State Board of Cosmetology and two agency inspectors.
The four plaintiffs claim the board disproportionately targeted Asian-American salon owners for frequent inspections, fines and disciplinary hearings because of their race.
The board argues there is no evidence of racial bias in its regulatory activities. It had urged Jackson to dismiss all of the plaintiffs’ claims before trial.
Vietnamese-owned businesses account for just 9 percent of the roughly 7,500 salons regulated by the state agency, including hair salons, but paid at least 80 percent of all board-imposed fines in each year between 2011 and 2013, the plaintiffs allege.
But the plaintiffs and defendants disagree on whether the rate of fines should be viewed through the prism of all types of regulated salons or just nail salons. Steven Young, the board’s executive director, has estimated that 80 percent of all nail salons are owned by people of Vietnamese heritage.
Jackson, however, decided it’s a dispute for jurors to resolve. And the judge noted that plaintiffs have presented other evidence that nail salons are subject to more scrutiny than other categories of salons.
One plaintiff also claims an inspector, Sherrie Stockstill, unlawfully detained her and her employees for approximately two hours during a 2013 inspection. Jackson ruled that those detentions were “objectively unreasonable.”
“No reasonable inspector in Stockstill’s position could believe that a regulation permitting her to inspect business records and interview employees of a manicuring salon would justify or permit the detainment of all the employees of the salon for a two-hour period,” the judge wrote in his 32-page order.
Salons owned by two plaintiffs are located in Lafayette. The other two are in Prairieville and Gonzales.
One of the plaintiffs’ attorneys is former U.S. Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao, a New Orleans Republican who was the first Vietnamese-American to serve in Congress.
The trial is scheduled to start March 13 and last about one week.