Andrew Wimer
Andrew Wimer · August 25, 2020

PHILADELPHIA—The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania ruled today in favor of two Philadelphia-area women denied licenses by the Pennsylvania Cosmetology Board. The Board, citing a “good moral character” requirement, used Courtney Haveman’s and Amanda Spillane’s long-past legal problems to deny them the right to work even after each spent hundreds of hours in cosmetology school. In December 2018, Courtney and Amanda teamed up with the Institute for Justice to challenge the requirement in state court. Today’s ruling finds that the requirement is unconstitutional since applicants for barber licenses were not subject to the same requirement.

“Today, the court called it ‘absurd’ to make cosmetology applicants prove that they’re good people when barbering applicants don’t have to,” said IJ Attorney Andrew Ward. “This decision means fewer people will be denied the right to work because of old convictions that don’t relate to their new jobs.”

Courtney and Amanda attended beauty school to train as estheticians—cosmetologists who focus on the beauty and care of the face. After graduating, both applied to take the exam to receive licenses. Similarly, both struggled with substance abuse, but have been sober and stayed out of trouble for years. The Cosmetology Board used old criminal convictions to deny the women licenses, making the money and months they spent on training useless.

The Commonwealth Court noted that barbers in Pennsylvania are permitted to do many of the same tasks as estheticians and even work in the same salon, yet do not have to prove their good character to get a license. The court found that this violates the Pennsylvania Constitution’s right to equal protection of the laws. Unless the Board appeals the decision to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Courtney and Amanda will be able to reapply to take the esthetician exam without undergoing a character screening.

“I’m overjoyed that the court ruled in my favor,” said Courtney Haveman. “It was devastating to work my way through beauty school only to be told that I wasn’t good enough to have a license. I’m working in a salon right now, but not in the job I trained for. Hopefully, I’ll be able to move into a position that will better support my young son.”

Courtney and Amanda’s case helped prompt the Pennsylvania Legislature to change how licensing boards evaluate applicants’ backgrounds. Those changes will go into effect in December 2020. Today’s ruling brings relief for Courtney and Amanda even sooner.

Even so, laws limiting people previously convicted of a crime, known as “collateral consequences,” remain widespread. 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 people with criminal convictions are excluded, making it that much harder for them to find a job and stay out of trouble. A recent report from IJ, Barred from Working, documents these licensing barriers.

“It’s counterproductive to deny people licenses for old crimes unrelated to the jobs they want to do,” said IJ Senior Attorney Dan Alban. “There’s a growing consensus that harsh laws like these aren’t working and that they contribute to recidivism. It’s good that Pennsylvania will now make it easier for people to get their lives back on track.”

This was the first case where IJ challenged a collateral consequences provision for an occupational license. However, IJ recently filed a new case in California on behalf of a seasonal firefighter who is barred from applying for an EMT license even though he passed the national EMT exam. Without an EMT license, it is practically impossible to apply for full-time firefighting jobs in California. IJ also scored a major win at the Pennsylvania Supreme Court challenging the requirement that a rental vacation manager acquire a full real estate license before she can operate her business.