Amanda Spillane was finally getting her life on track. Having gotten hooked on drugs as a teenager, Amanda had committed several crimes and landed in prison for two years. When she got out, Amanda was determined not to waste the rest of her youth. She moved back in with her parents, started working full time at McDonalds, and spent nights attending cosmetology school so she could have a career. Amanda became passionate about cosmetology and even got a job offer at a salon before she finished school.
But when Amanda applied for her cosmetology license, the Pennsylvania Board of Cosmetology slammed the door on her dreams. The Board claimed Amanda lacked “good moral character” because of her past offenses and was thus unfit to give facials or tweeze hair. Amanda was shocked, heartbroken, and out of a job.
Amanda’s story was not unique. In recent years, dozens of other women have been denied licenses because of criminal convictions irrelevant to the practice of cosmetology. 1 And would-be cosmetologists aren’t the only ones to suffer from this arbitrary standard. Pennsylvania required “good moral character” for jobs ranging from landscape architect 2 to poultry technician. 3 Nationwide, there are about 30,000 “collateral consequence” laws like this one—laws that limit people’s right to work even after they have paid their debts to society.
Pennsylvania’s good-character requirement was not just unfair. It was unconstitutional. The Pennsylvania Constitution guarantees Amanda the right to work in her chosen field free of unreasonable laws. Good character has nothing to do with skincare or hair removal. It wasn’t required for barbers. And in the rare case where an applicant’s background suggests she might harm someone, the Board has other authority to deny a license. With help from the Institute for Justice, Amanda and another Pennsylvania woman denied a cosmetology license, Courtney Haveman, sued to end the unconstitutional law.
In August 2020, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court agreed that cosmetologists and barbers could not be subject to different standards and struck down the good moral character clause. This opened the way for Amanda and Courtney to reapply for their licenses without having to worry that their past would prevent them from building a better future.
Courtney Haveman and Amanda Spillane are two women whom Pennsylvania denied the right to work as cosmetologists.
Courtney is a stay-at-home mother who is raising her baby boy with her husband in Yardley, Pennsylvania. Five years, ago, however, Courtney was living a different life. Back then, she had a drinking problem. As a result, between 2011 and 2013, Courtney pleaded guilty to several misdemeanors stemming from three incidents. In one, Courtney drove while intoxicated. In another, she illegally possessed drug paraphernalia. And in the third, she hit a security guard while drunkenly resisting arrest at a casino. After the third incident, Courtney realized drinking was destroying her life, and she joined Alcoholics Anonymous.
After much hard work, Courtney has now been sober for more than five years. During her recovery, she met the man who would become her husband. They married in 2015, and, two years later, Courtney gave birth to their baby boy. She considers herself living proof that recovery is possible.
Amanda Spillane lives with her kitten, Sophie, and earns a living waitressing in suburban Philadelphia. But, like Courtney, she used to live a different life. Amanda suffered from depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder, and, in high school, her self-medication with drugs became a habit. Between 2005 and 2011, Amanda committed a series of crimes including drug possession, driving while under the influence, and thefts and burglaries to fund her drug use. She then went to prison for two years.
That was seven years ago, and Amanda has been sober ever since. While incarcerated, Amanda participated in intensive therapy and classes about resocialization and overcoming domestic abuse. When she got out, she worked the 4:45 a.m. shift at McDonald’s for five years, where her manager evaluated her as “outstanding.” Amanda is now earning a modest living as a waitress in a steakhouse. She is close with her family, has reconnected with her faith, and now relies on exercise, medication, and a healthy diet to maintain her mental health. She accepts responsibility for her crimes and is remorseful about a youth she sees as wasted.
Courtney and Amanda’s Career Choice
Courtney and Amanda want to be estheticians, the kind of cosmetologist that focuses on the beauty and care of the face. For Courtney, that would mean extra income to support her family, but with flexible hours to be with her son. For Amanda, it would mean a calm and quiet career that lets her help people. Both attended cosmetology school, Courtney for six months, Amanda for a year. The tuition for the courses was over $6,000. Both women also lined up jobs with salons.
But, because of the good-character requirement, none of that mattered to the Cosmetology Board. Even though Courtney’s criminal history had nothing to do with cosmetology, the Board provisionally denied her application for an esthetician license because of her supposed lack of character. Shocked, overwhelmed, and unable to afford a lawyer, Courtney did not challenge the Board’s initial ruling, which became final a few months later.
What happened to Amanda was even worse. Like Courtney, her criminal history has nothing to do with cosmetology. But after the Board denied her, she tried to appeal. She and her parents drove from Philadelphia to Harrisburg, where Amanda begged a government official to decide that she was a good enough person to work. But he didn’t. He said that it wasn’t enough for Amanda to testify about her recovery and the stable life she was living; she needed evidence of doing good deeds to outweigh her criminal history. So, Amanda, too, was rejected.
Rejections like these are hardly unique. In fact, the Board routinely denies applications because of irrelevant criminal convictions. That’s why Courtney and Amanda are fighting back. On December 11, 2018, they sued the Board in Pennsylvania court to protect their right, and the right of everyone like them, to provide for themselves in the career of their choice.
Under the Pennsylvania Constitution, laws prohibiting people from working must actually protect the public. 4 This one doesn’t. “Good character” has nothing to do with cosmetology. This is not a case where a drug dealer wants to become a pharmacist or an embezzler wants to get licensed as an accountant. All that Courtney and Amanda are asking to do is give facials and remove stray hairs. You can do those properly whether you have a criminal record or not.
Not only is this obvious, it is confirmed by other laws. For one, there is no good-character requirement for barbers. In fact, Pennsylvania courts have held that even serious crimes cannot prevent someone from being granted a barbering license. 5 So anyone can shave a hair, but only “good” people can tweeze one. Similarly, other salon workers like receptionists, cashiers, and shampooers do not need good character even though they have at least as much access to cash and customers’ possessions.
And there is another reason the good-character requirement does not protect the public. The Board already has separate authority to deny licenses for any behavior indicating that an applicant might harm someone. Under the cosmetology laws, the Board can refuse licenses “for dishonest or unethical practices” related to cosmetology. 6 And, under a general criminal-history law, the Board can deny applications because of criminal convictions “related to” cosmetology. 7 So all the good‑character requirement adds is the power to reject applicants for conduct that is irrelevant.
Formally, Courtney and Amanda have two claims, both under the Pennsylvania Constitution. The first is that the good-character requirement violates their right to work in the occupation of their choosing, free from arbitrary restrictions. The second is that the good-character requirement violates their right to the equal protection of the law because it does not apply to barbers or other salon employees.
The Broader Battle Against Collateral Consequences
These claims matter beyond Pennsylvania. Across the country, there are about 30,000 laws making it harder for people with criminal histories to work. And there is a growing consensus that this harsh approach isn’t working. One in three Americans has a criminal record, and hundreds of thousands of people get out of prison every year. Those people need jobs. Allowing them to support themselves is fundamental to preventing repeat offenses. We know that in states with lower licensing burdens, recidivism rates shrink. In states where the government makes it harder for people to get jobs, recidivism rates grow.
Second chances are better than scarlet letters. It doesn’t make sense to drag down people who are trying to pull themselves up. It makes sense to forgive people who have paid their debts to society. That’s why Courtney and Amanda are headed to court to establish that everyone—criminal record or not—has the right to earn an honest living.
The Litigation Team
About the Institute for Justice
The Institute for Justice is the nation’s leading legal advocate for economic liberty. IJ has challenged dozens of laws that get in the way of earning an honest living, including laws requiring licenses for lactation consultants; laws requiring college degrees to watch children; laws banning moms from selling home-baked goods; laws preventing makeup artists from teaching; and laws requiring irrelevant training for eyebrow threaders.
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