Eyebrow threading is an ancient grooming technique that dates back thousands of years to parts of South Asia and the Middle East. The technique is simple. Threading, as it is commonly known, uses only cotton thread and nothing else to lift unwanted hair from the follicle. Since its arrival in the United States, threading’s popularity has soared, offering threaders countless opportunities for entrepreneurship and a shot at the American dream.

But in Louisiana, the government created pointless barriers that made it virtually impossible for threaders to earn a living. In order to practice the simple skill of threading, Louisiana required threaders to obtain a traditional esthetician’s license that involves no training in threading. This requirement forced threaders to waste hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars learning cosmetology techniques they do not use. To make matters worse, just across the border in Texas, this exact requirement was declared unconstitutional for eyebrow threaders in 2015. By forcing threaders into this irrational licensing scheme, the government placed the American dream out of reach for threading entrepreneurs across the state.

That’s why one Louisiana business and two threaders fought back. With the help of the Institute for Justice (IJ), the Threading Studio & Spa, run by Lata Jagtiani, and threaders Ushaben Chudasama and Panna Shah filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the state’s licensing requirement. The lawsuit asked why the government was forcing threaders to quit their jobs and waste time and money learning techniques that have nothing to do with threading. Together they took a stand for their right—and the right of all Louisianans—to earn an honest living.

The lawsuit survived a motion to dismiss in 2017 and, facing the prospect of a long and losing legal battle, Louisiana’s cosmetology board created a specialty permit for threaders. Now, threaders must simply register with the state and pass a 15-question test on sanitation techniques. Lata, Ushaben, Panna and threaders across the state are now back to work doing what they love.

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The Art and Benefits of Eyebrow Threading

In many South Asian and the Middle Eastern countries, threading is both a tradition and an art. For centuries, the art of threading has been passed between generations and is often learned at a very young age.

The art of threading involves tightly winding and looping a single strand of cotton thread and quickly brushing the loop along the face, capturing unwanted hair and removing it from the follicle. In essence, threaders create a lasso that quickly and precisely removes several individual eyebrow hairs in one pass.

Threading is very different from Western hair-removal techniques. It doesn’t involve skin-to-skin contact or the use of chemicals, heat or sharp objects. Unlike waxing, it carries no risk of skin removal or burns. It is also quicker and less expensive than other forms of hair removal. The entire process generally takes less than 10 minutes and costs between $10 and $20.

As Americans have grown to recognize its many benefits, threading has become popular across the United States. Today, threading is a thriving industry in the many states that do not regulate it. In these states, threading offers countless opportunities for employment and entrepreneurship. Unfortunately, Louisiana’s irrational licensing laws keep threading entrepreneurs from pursuing these opportunities.

Late Jagtiani has partnered with the Institute for Justice to fight for her right to earn an honest living threading eyebrows in Louisiana.

Louisiana’s Esthetics Licensing Scheme

Louisiana first began regulating eyebrow threading in 2010. 1 That year, state lawmakers added “threading” to the state’s definition of esthetics, suddenly forcing threaders to jump through several regulatory hoops in order to work and making it illegal to pursue their calling without a pointless esthetician’s license. 2

To qualify for an esthetician’s license, threaders must spend hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars completing cosmetology training in everything other than threading. Threaders must complete 750 hours of instruction in cosmetology school, 3 which can cost more than $10,000. 4 These schools do not teach threading or provide such a small amount of instruction that no one could possibly learn the technique who did not already know it. 5 The vast majority of the 750 hours spent in cosmetology school involve learning techniques like facials and waxing—techniques threaders will never use. Meanwhile, useful skills like sanitation constitute only a small fraction of the 750 hours required.

In addition to this training requirement, the state requires threaders to complete three licensing exams, which include both written and practical components. 6  But just as the state’s schools do not teach threading, the state’s exams do not test threading. 7 Here too, threaders are tested on a variety of techniques that have nothing to do with their jobs. After passing these exams, threaders may obtain an esthetician’s license if they pay an additional fee. 8

Faced with these obstacles, many threaders simply cannot afford to take time away from their jobs and families to learn conventional cosmetology techniques that bear no relevance to threading. To make matters worse, the Louisiana Board of Cosmetology actively enforces these laws against threading businesses, and has issued fines to those that employ unlicensed threaders. Adding insult to injury, the Board has ordered these businesses to immediately fire their unlicensed employees. But threaders are people of modest means. They cannot afford this type of financial and personal risk. Many have been forced to look for other work.

Eyebrow threading is an ancient grooming technique that dates back thousands of years to parts of South Asia and the Middle East. The technique is simple. Threading, as it is commonly known, uses only cotton thread and nothing else to lift unwanted hair from the follicle.

Licensing Laws in Louisiana and Across the Country                                                   

Threaders are not the only Louisianians burdened by irrational licensing laws. Florists, interior designers and dozens of other occupations also require pointless licenses. In Louisiana and across the country, licensing laws like these prevent people from earning an honest living and harm consumers.

An occupational license is a permission slip from the government to work in a particular field. And to get that permission, occupational licensing first requires the completion of several additional requirements, including additional training, testing and fees, to work in a particular job.

These laws are often passed under the guise of protecting public health and safety. However, in reality, many of these laws only protect industry insiders from competition. 9 The evidence is now clear: When licensing does not serve a legitimate public health or safety interest, licensing hurts both workers and consumers.

Bi-partisan research has demonstrated that licensing creates barriers to entering the workforce and reduces opportunities for workers. 10 Moreover, these barriers disproportionately affect lower income workers, minorities and older workers, who are less likely to be able to afford the costs associated with licensure. And these requirements hurt consumers, too, who are left with fewer options and who pay more for licensed goods and services.

Yet even with these widely-recognized consequences, licensing continues to grow. During the 1950s, only five percent of the American workforce was subject to licensing laws. Today, that number has grown fivefold to roughly 30 percent. 11 This explosion in licensing has created unnecessary barriers to entering and participating in the workforce. 12   Eliminating these requirements would unlock countless opportunities for employment and entrepreneurship in Louisiana and across the country.

Lata Jagtiani, Ushaben Chudasama and Panna Shah have partnered with the Institute for Justice to fight for her right to earn an honest living threading eyebrows in Louisiana.

The Plaintiffs

The Plaintiffs in this case are the Threading Studio, a family-owned threading business in Metairie, Louisiana run by Lata Jagtiani, and two threaders, Ushaben Chudasama and Panna Shah.

Lata Jagtiani came to the United States from India to pursue the American dream. Lata has been threading since she was a teenager and saw a need for threading services in the New Orleans metropolitan area. After working in several businesses, Lata wanted to open her own threading business.

Lata’s dream was realized in 2012, when she opened the Threading Studio & Spa. Threading has always been the most popular service offered at the studio, which also offers a full slate of services performed by licensed estheticians. But Lata cannot find any licensed estheticians who can work as threaders because licensed estheticians do not know how to thread. When Lata has hired estheticians, she has had to hire estheticians with no threading experience, and then teach them how to thread. She has also had to employ unlicensed threaders to keep her business afloat.

For years, Lata feared that the Louisiana Board of Cosmetology would one day shut her down. The Board repeatedly inspected her business and sent cease and desist letters ordering her to stop employing unlicensed threaders. In June 2016, the Board fined the business thousands of dollars for employing unlicensed threaders, and it ordered Lata to fire her unlicensed employees. Sadly, Lata had to let some of her most experienced threaders go. Her business has suffered greatly as a result. Customers repeatedly ask for these threaders, and Lata continues to have trouble finding licensed estheticians capable of doing the job. Lata hopes this lawsuit will give the Threading Studio the ability to prosper and grow.

Ushaben Chudasama came to the United States from India in 1993 in pursuit of a better life. She has been threading for more than 25 years. As a mother of four, she has always hoped to rely on threading to support her family, but she has been unable to work full-time because she cannot afford to take time away from work to complete the state’s licensing requirements. She has always feared that the Board may take action and that she may lose her passion and livelihood.

Ushaben used to thread part-time at the Threading Studio & Spa, often filling in for licensed estheticians when they were unable to work. But after the Board ordered the business to terminate its unlicensed threaders, Lata was forced to reduce Ushaben’s hours, and Ushaben is no longer permitted to thread in the studio. Ushaben has had to work in retail to support her family. She has joined this lawsuit because she wants to pursue her calling without having to satisfy irrational licensing requirements.

Panna Shah came to the United States from India in 2006 also in search of a better life. She has been threading for more than 30 years. When she first came to the United States, Panna hoped to rely on threading to support herself and her family. But she soon realized she would be unable to thread full-time because she can’t afford to complete the state’s irrelevant training requirements.  Panna too has worked at the Threading Studio part-time in the past but lost her job when the Board disciplined the business. Before being let go, Panna would only work a few hours to reduce the risk of being caught without a license. With this lawsuit, she hopes to secure the right to earn an honest living as a threader in Louisiana.

The Defendants

The defendants in this case are the Louisiana State Board of Cosmetology, its executive director and its members, each of whom has been sued in their official capacity.

Legal Claims—the Right to Earn an Honest Living

The Louisiana Constitution protects the right to earn an honest living free from irrational government interference. 13 With this lawsuit, the Threading Studio, Ushaben and Panna assert that the state’s application of its esthetics licensing laws to threading violates state constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection. 14  In particular, they argue that these provisions protect threaders from having to complete licensing requirements that have nothing to do with their occupation. They also argue that it is unconstitutional for the state to treat threaders the same way it treats licensed estheticians when the services they are providing are very different in the real world.

In the past, the Louisiana Supreme Court has recognized that laws that restrict the right to earn a living must be rationally related to a legitimate government interest. 15  This lawsuit asks the court to reaffirm that Louisianans have the right to pursue their calling free from irrational licensing laws and to establish once and for all that the Louisiana Constitution provides meaningful protection for economic freedom.

IJ filed its petition in this case on August 2, 2016 in the 19th Judicial District Court in East Baton Rouge Parish.

The Litigation Team

This case is being led by IJ attorneys Renée Flaherty and Wesley Hottot. They will be assisted by New Orleans attorney F. Evans Schmidt of Koch & Schmidt, LLC.

The Institute for Justice—25 Years of Protecting Economic Liberty

The Institute for Justice is a public interest law firm that brings challenges nationwide in support of fundamental individual liberties, including the right to earn an honest living free from irrational government interference. Since opening its doors in 1991, IJ has successfully challenged occupational licensing laws across the nation, scoring major victories on behalf of individuals and businesses, including those affected by irrational cosmetology licensing requirements. A few of these important victories include:

Patel v. Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation 16 —In 2015, IJ secured a landmark victory for threaders when the Texas Supreme Court struck down the state’s requirement that threaders complete 750 hours of largely irrelevant cosmetology training.

Brantley v. Kuntz 17 —In 2015, IJ successfully persuaded a federal court in Texas to strike down the state’s irrational licensing requirements for hair braiding instructors.

Saint Joseph Abbey v. Castille 18 —In 2013, IJ scored a major victory in Louisiana on behalf of the Benedictine monks of the St. Joseph Abbey when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit struck down a Louisiana law that required them to become licensed funeral directors to sell handmade wooden caskets.

Armstrong v. Lunsford 19 —In 2005, IJ opened the hair braiding profession in Mississippi when the state legislature responded to its lawsuit by allowing natural hair braiders to braid without obtaining a needless government license.

Wexler v. City of New Orleans 20 —In 2003, IJ successfully persuaded a federal court to strike down an absurd ordinance that prohibited booksellers from selling books on city sidewalks without a government-issued permit.

Cornwell v. Hamilton 21 —In 1999, IJ defeated California’s arbitrary cosmetology licensing regime for African-style hair braiders.

IJ’s headquarters are located in Arlington, Virginia. It also has state offices in Texas, Florida, Minnesota, Washington and Arizona.

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