Louisiana Cosmetology Board alleged to use aggressive enforcement tactics to
 discriminate against Vietnamese nail salon operators



Forty years ago, actress Tippi Hedren graciously offered a program for 20 Vietnamese women to learn the profession of being manicurists.  The result was a complete revolution of the nail salon industry.  The industry is now an $8 billion powerhouse which is dominated by Vietnamese operators.  According to Nails, a publication devoted to the nail salon industry, 51% of nail salon operators nationwide are Vietnamese.



In Louisiana, nail salon operations are dominated by the Vietnamese community.  According to former Congressman Joseph Cao, 90% of the approximate 2,250 nail salons in Louisiana, or around 2,000 salons, are Vietnamese.  Despite this fact, let's watch Louisiana State Board of Cosmetology Board (LSBC) Executive Director, Steve Young, explain why, in the history of the Cosmetology Board, the Vietnamese community has never had a representative:



LSBC Executive Director Steve Young defends
the fact there is no Vietnamese representation
on the LSBC.



Vietnamese operators embrace competition and have routinely undercut the competition’s price by 30-50%.  They are recognized by Nails to have a stellar reputation for high-quality work, and they actively support their struggling relatives in Vietnam.  Numerous Vietnamese nail salon operators have informed Sound Off Louisiana that the LSBC has targeted them for harassment and discriminatory inspections designed to drive them out of business.  Their claims are buttressed and detailed in a class action lawsuit filed by former U. S. Congressman Joseph Cao on February 6, 2014. After the filing of the suit, Sound Off Louisiana attended the next LSBC meeting and has been quietly obtaining the stories and plights of some Vietnamese operators.  Let’s first hit the highlights of the discrimination lawsuit.



The suit alleges the LSBC, its Executive Director, one of its attorneys, Celia Cangelosi (who is named personally as a defendant), and at least two of its inspectors, Sherrie Stockstill and Margaret Keller (also both named as defendants) have subjected the Vietnamese operators to being “harassed, intimidated, falsely imprisoned, and arbitrarily discriminated against.”



Examples cited in the lawsuit include Thoa Thi Nguyen’s Exotic Nails being visited on Friday, July 19, 2013 at a time when the salon was “packed with patrons,” by LSBC inspectors, including Stockstill, who, after several minutes of loitering and communicating facts of the salon’s operations, shouted, “Everyone keep still.  Don’t move!”  Despite producing no identifications, the suit alleges Stockstill and her counterpart proceeded to begin opening drawers, sorting through files, and, for two hours, demanding that Nguyen not leave the premises.  Essentially, they engaged in Gestapo-like enforcement practices in effectively conducting a search of the entire premises despite having no search warrant or law enforcement authority.  Nguyen contends that LSBCs actions resulted in a loss of confidence among some of her patrons who witnessed the scene and that her business has suffered from the episode. 



The lawsuit details 7-8 other similar incidents including operators being subjected to repeated “inspections” wherein these type of Gestapo tactics were deployed by the LSBC, forcing some operators to sell their businesses to escape the relentless attacks.  Meanwhile, the plaintiffs allege that non Vietnamese operators are rarely, if ever, subjected to any inspection whatsoever.  The lawsuit concludes by providing exhibits which show virtually all of the hearings for the LSBC entail Vietnamese nail salon operators, and Sound Off Louisiana has readily observed that to continue to be the case since the filing of the lawsuit. 



LSBC meetings appear to be a vehicle for impeding competition and creating a self-generating source of revenue to provide a cash cow for the attorneys who serve under contract with them and pay the board’s salaried staff. While the “inspectors” of the LSBC earn average salaries of around $29,000, which perhaps explains their fundamental lack of knowledge or training regarding requirements to conduct searches, the  LSBC payroll approaches a staggering $1 million a year!  That’s to say nothing of the $200,000 - $225,000 a year it generates for its two contract attorneys:  Cangelosi and Sheri Morris. 



Meanwhile, Vietnamese operators, who supply much of the funds through which they are harassed, are forced to literally beg the board for permission to work.  Consider this couple's plea to the LSBC after moving from Texas and attempting to obtain a license through reciprocity:



Vietnamese couple pleads with LSBC for permission to work.
Instead, the LSBC grilled her about her Vietnamese high school
diploma and debate if the Vietnamese translator for the diploma
should be "approved."



A common complaint of Vietnamese operators in trying to work with the LSBC is the obvious language barrier.  WBRZ (Baton Rouge Channel 2) investigative reporter Lee Polowczuk recently asked Young why the LSBC doesn't hire a Vietnamese translator.  Let's watch Young's response:



LSBC Executive Director Young clearly indicates his only
concern is having a Vietnamese translator for hearings and
not everyday interaction with the Vietnamese community.



Regarding the applicant’s struggles to obtain a license through Louisiana’s reciprocity with Texas, many Vietnamese salon operators became very concerned when they noted on the April 2015 LSBC agenda an item labeled “California reciprocity.”  Vietnamese citizens often immigrate to California and practice as manicurists before relocating to Louisiana, and one salon operator informed Sound Off Louisiana that he personally knows of 15 manicurists planning to relocate to Louisiana within weeks.  These operators were therefore concerned about the agenda item.  Accordingly, Sound Off Louisiana attended the meeting and provided the following videotaped coverage of the discussion to those concerned:



LSBC Executive Director Young openly ponders suspending
reciprocity with California due to their authorities indicating
they would be "removing their seals from their certifications."



As evidenced by the preceding clip, several members and Young indicate, regarding California licensing authorities, that, "you cannot get a live person on the phone."  That statement, especially when combined with the statement that California licensing authorities were taking the utterly bizarre measure of "removing their seals from their certification documents," prompted Sound Off Louisiana to contact the authorities.  We had no difficulty whatsoever getting them on the phone.  Furthermore, we were told that Young’s statement was false and that they’d experienced a temporary machine failure but that a new color-printed seal was being incorporated into their documents.



Accordingly, Sound Off Louisiana made a public records request of the LSBC for whatever documentation Young referenced in the previous video clip indicating California was removing its seal.  What we got was this this email which actually confirmed what California licensing authorities said to us over the phone.  It’s not clear whether the LSBC is going to accept the new color seal, but what is clear is that Young came across as being determined to suspend California reciprocity and slow the expansion of Vietnamese nail salon operators in Louisiana!



Though it's unclear what the LSBC will now accept in terms of a seal, let's watch them wrap up their discussions and make formal motion of how they'll handle future applications:


LSBC wraps up discussion of California reciprocity.



Upon seeing these videos, several Vietnamese operators informed Sound Off Louisiana that they had even more anxiety over the California reciprocity dilemma.  One operator even informed us that a relative who wishes to reside in Louisiana with family is about to expend $4,000 in California and spend the necessary time to get a license, and the family is now very concerned that Louisiana may not honor it.  Accordingly, on behalf of the those concerned, we asked that the item be placed up for discussion again at the next meeting.  Our request was denied, and we were informed by LSBC attorney Sheri Morris that California and Louisiana authorities had "reached an agreement."  We reiterated our desire for any such "agreement" to be discussed at the next meeting; however, our request was denied. 



Another common complaint among Vietnamese operators is that the LSBC itself can’t decide what is legal and what isn’t.  One operator indicated he was licensed by an LSBC official only to be informed by a subsequent inspector that he failed to have proper equipment nor adequate space for conducting his operations.  Another operator appeared to suffer a similar plight as evidenced by the following utterly embarrassing video segment from the April 2015 LSBC meeting:



Utterly embarrassing video clip in which one LSBC attorney,
Morris, has to literally educate another LSBC attorney, Cangelosi,
that nails can't be done at an esthetics salon!



As evidenced in the clip, LSBC attorney Morris has to educate attorney Cangelosi that nails can’t be done in an esthetic salon.  Cangelosi says “somebody” told them they could “do this,” but she emphasizes it was “not someone from the Board.”  Sound Off Louisiana has been told by many Vietnamese operators that, contrary to what Morris and Cangelosi claim in the video (that “friends told them that,”), it was in fact LSBC officials who told them they could operate, only to come behind months later and issue violations!  Even in the video itself, Cangelosi admits, “Somebody licensed them.”  In yet another instance at the same meeting, the LSBC demonstrates that it is completely inept at being able to provide guidance to its licensees regarding acceptable "cheese graders.":


LSBC reveals it can give no guidance to licensees on "cheese graders."



Another nail salon operator told Sound Off Louisiana that his salon was cited for violations and, when he informed the inspector that a beauty salon nearby operated in the same identical manner as him with the same equipment and space allocation, the investigator told him, “There are different rules for you guys.”  While “you guys” is subject to interpretation, the source told Sound Off Louisiana that he took the comment to mean Vietnamese operators.  Further, when he complained to the investigator that he may challenge an administrative hearing on the issue, she said, “You may as well pay the fine now.  If you challenge it, they’re just going to add $500 administrative costs, and there is no way you can win!”  When he inquired how that could be possible for his operation to be treated so differently than the nearby beauty salon, the investigator responded, “They can do whatever they want!”



Yet another complaint of Vietnamese operators is the haphazard manner in which Young is “notified” of violations.  Sensing this may be an issue, Polowczuk (the Channel 2 investigative reporter), asked a question in that regard.  Let's watch Young's response:



Young indicates finding violations is a matter
of "being in the right place at the right time."



Young indicates that his 11 inspectors are spread thin in their districts; however, many Vietnamese salon operators state that is flatly false.  They indicate that, after a complaint "mysteriously" appears in front of Young, that inspectors are shifted to their districts to concentrate on them and that the inspectors make it a point of showing up on Saturdays to provide the maximum negative impact to their salon’s operations.  Further, the operators flatly reject any notion that these Saturday visits are "inspections," and refer to them as “raids."



Also particularly galling to Vietnamese operators was Young's response to Polowcuzuk’s inquiry regarding unlicensed manicurists.  Let's watch:


LSBC Executive Director Young characterizes
manicurists who possess no Louisiana license.



The Vietnamese manicurists and salon operators whom Sound Off Louisiana interviewed on Young’s comment indicated that his statement was as an absolute insult, and they indicated Vietnamese families train relatives on how to perform the service in a superior manner with safety at the forefront.  They further indicated that his comment was an absolute outrage to an entire group of professionals pertaining to their trade in which they take tremendous pride.  They expressed particular frustration at Young and the LSBC for their steadfast refusal to grant reciprocity when a manicurist has been validly licensed in another state and merely wants to practice in Louisiana.  They indicate that, instead of permitting them to practice their trade in Louisiana, the LSBC gets bogged down on high school education levels and whether a Vietnamese high school transcript, for which students typically graduate in only 10 years versus 12 in the U. S., meets the equivalent requirement for a 10th grade education in the United States.  



Recently, President Obama proposed his FY '16 budget containing $15 million for states to explore abolishing many boards and commissions which restrict job opportunities.  Louisiana Treasurer John Kennedy gave strong words of encouragement of such action in Louisiana. 



In an individual interview with Sound Off Louisiana, Young indicated the Federal discrimination lawsuit is “about over with.”  We found that to be an interesting contention given that Federal Judge Brian Jackson has denied every state effort to toss the suit.  Furthermore, in his rulings of 3/20/15, Jackson denied the state’s motions to dismiss the complaint against inspector Stockstill both for racial discrimination and false imprisonment.  For Keller, the false imprisonment complaint was dismissed, but Jackson refused to dismiss the claim for discrimination against inspector Keller.  To further demonstrate the case is far from “over with,” the court issued these deadlines established on 4/23/15 pertaining to the case.  The trial is estimated to commence on January 17, 2017 and last for seven days.



According to records available through LaTrac, the state has authorized spending of close to $300,000 so far in defending the racial discrimination lawsuit.  Sound Off Louisiana made a public records request directly to the law firm providing the defense, Shows Cali.  Shows serves as AG Caldwell's campaign treasurer for this fall's AG race.  Further, in an investigative report by WWL in New Orleans, Shows was identified as a huge beneficiary of Caldwell’s propensity to award lucrative multi-million-dollar contracts to his close friends and associates.  One might think that, given the AG’s enforcement authority with regard to public records, Sound Off Louisiana’s request would not be stonewalled by Shows Cali since Shows is Treasurer of Caldwell’s campaign and it may embarrass Caldwell; however, in this Shows FOIA response of 4/17/15, it’s obvious Shows’ office has no intention of fulfilling our public records requests, an action which Sound Off Louisiana can only surmise has the full blessing of AG Caldwell, notwithstanding the AG's obligation to enforce Louisiana's public records laws.



Louisiana’s neighboring state, Mississippi, also has considerable problems with its Cosmetology Board.  Let's listen to a ear-popping tirade on that situation by Mississippi Rep. Steven Holland:


MS Rep. Steve Holland lambasts the MS Board of Cosmetology.



Unlike Louisiana, Mississippi requires all funds collected by boards and commissions to be placed in the state’s general fund, after which individual boards and commissions must make application for funds for that year.  Holland says the Mississippi Cosmetology Board’s funds need to be a “big goose egg.”  Perhaps Louisiana should follow suit?


To return to the Sound Off Louisiana blog post for Congressman Cao sounding off, CLICK HERE.