A federal appeals court in St. Louis ruled Thursday that African-style hair braiders in Missouri must be licensed like barbers and cosmetologists.
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling in St. Louis a case brought by two people who are paid to do hair braiding, challenging the Missouri law that requires the same license as barbers or cosmetologists.
Missouri law requires a training course of 1,000 hours for barbering and 1,500 hours for hairdressing, followed by a licensing exam.
The hair braiders who challenged the law argued that what they do is different than barbering and cosmetology, and that the training courses and exam do not cover the techniques they employ.
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They contended that requiring them to follow the same licensing rule was not “rationally related” to any “legitimate government interest.”
Missouri officials argued that it does have an interest in protecting consumers and ensuring public health and safety.
The state presented evidence of potential health risks such as “hair loss, inflammation and scalp infection.”
“The state also presented evidence of scalp conditions that braiders must recognize as unsuitable for braiding,” according to the court of appeals opinion.
The braiders argued in their appeal that law violates the Constitution’s equal protection clause by treating different professionals similarly.
The braiders defined their profession as “braiding, locking, twisting, weaving, cornrowing or otherwise physically manipulating hair without the use of chemicals that alter the hair’s physical characteristics.”
But the appeals court ruled that the definition “falls squarely” within the state law’s definitions for barbering and cosmetology.
“A legislature rationally could conclude that African-style braiding is not a different profession than barbering or cosmetology,” the appeals court wrote in Thursday’s opinion.