Victory for Hair Braiders in Washington

Matt Powers
Matt Powers · April 10, 2015

Seattle, Wash.—Today, African hair braider Salamata Sylla asked a federal court to dismiss her lawsuit against the Washington State Department of Licensing after the Department agreed to exempt hair braiders from the state’s burdensome cosmetology licensing requirements. Previously, to obtain a license, braiders would have to spend 1,600 hours in cosmetology school, where not one minute is spent learning hair braiding. The new rule goes into effect today.

Sylla, who is represented by the Institute for Justice, filed a federal lawsuit last June because Department inspectors visited her Kent, Wash. salon—Sally’s African Hair Braiding—and ordered her to obtain a cosmetology license or stop working. Sylla’s case sought to hold the Department to a 2004 policy statement, in which it said that braiders did not need licenses.

In November, Sylla agreed to put her case on hold to give the Department a chance to clarify whether it would stand by its 2004 policy or allow its inspectors to continue to shut down innocent braiders. On March 10, the Department adopted a final administrative rule holding that braiders do not need licenses.

“I’m proud that my case convinced Washington State to fix its braiding policies once and for all,” said Sylla. “African hair braiding is a natural hair care technique. Braiders aren’t cosmetologists and we don’t need expensive cosmetology training to keep the public safe.”

Sylla was blindsided when Department inspectors said that she needed a cosmetology license because she was familiar with fellow braider Benta Diaw’s successful 2004 lawsuit. That case resulted in the Department announcing that braiding does not—and will not—require a license. The Department’s 2004 agreement with Diaw resulted in a non-binding policy statement. The Department’s new rule makes that policy legally binding.

“The government cannot license something as safe and common as hair braiding,” said Wesley Hottot, an attorney with the Institute for Justice representing Sylla. “Washington’s cosmetology officials deserve praise for recognizing that braiding is entirely safe and they deserve praise for allowing braiders to go back to work.”

Sylla’s challenge to Washington’s regulation of braiders was one of three cases launched on the same day as part of a National Hair Braiding Initiative, which seeks to protect braiders’ right to earn an honest living. One of those cases also recently ended in a victory for braiders when Arkansas amended its law to exempt them from licensing. A case in Missouri remains pending.

For more information on this lawsuit, visit Founded in 1991, the Virginia-based Institute for Justice is the national law firm for liberty.