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Denied the Right to Work, Pennsylvania Women Sue to End Unconstitutional Licensing Law

Pennsylvania Cosmetology Board uses irrelevant and old criminal convictions to deny licenses after individuals invest time and money in education

PHILADELPHIA—Two Pennsylvania women denied licenses by the Pennsylvania Cosmetology Board are suing in the Commonwealth Court to end an unconstitutional requirement that stands in the way of careers in cosmetology. Courtney Haveman and Amanda Spillane, who live near Philadelphia, struggled with substance abuse, but have been sober and stayed out of trouble for years. The Board, citing a “good moral character” requirement, used their past legal problems to deny them the right to work even after each spent hundreds of hours in cosmetology school.

Courtney and Amanda are teaming up with the Institute for Justice (IJ) to end this unreasonable and arbitrary provision. Their past offenses have nothing to do with their ability to work as estheticians—cosmetologists who focus on the beauty and care of the face. While cosmetologists are subject to a good character test, Pennsylvania barber licenses lack the same requirement. If you don’t need good character to cut hair, why would you need it to tweeze one?

“No one should be denied the right to work because of irrelevant criminal convictions,” said IJ attorney Andrew Ward. “Courtney and Amanda made mistakes, but they’ve turned their lives around. This law doesn’t protect the public, it just makes it harder for individuals to pull themselves up and provide for their families. That’s unconstitutional.”

While the Pennsylvania Cosmetology Board does grant licenses to some applicants with criminal records, Courtney and Amanda are just two among dozens of women denied the right to work by the good character requirement in recent years. License applicants must undergo the required training before they are judged on their character and it is likely that, just like Courtney and Amanda, many applicants are not aware of the character requirement until they are denied a license.

“Working in a salon looked like a good way to help support myself and leave my past problems behind,” said Courtney Haveman. “I had a job offer waiting for me, completed six months of training and was ready to work. I’m fighting against this requirement not only for myself, but also for people like me who had a tough past and deserve a second chance.”

Pennsylvania requires good moral character for a number of jobs, ranging from landscape architect to poultry technician. Such laws limiting people previously convicted of a crime are known as “collateral consequences.” Nationwide, there are approximately 30,000 such laws related to employment alone, and they are found at every level of government: local, state and federal. With approximately 1 in 5 Americans required to hold a license to legally work, there are many common occupations from which ex-offenders are excluded, making it that much harder for them to find a job and stay out of trouble.

“There is a growing consensus that these laws are bad for ex-offenders and bad for society,” said IJ attorney Erica Smith. “People deserve a second chance, and when you deny it to them, they are more likely to wind up committing more crimes. It is no surprise that states with harsher licensing laws have higher rates of recidivism. We need to make it easier for people to get their lives back on track, not harder.”

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