African hair braider Salamata Sylla agreed to put her lawsuit against the Washington Department of Licensing on hold while the department pursues a new administrative rule exempting hair braiders from the state’s burdensome and irrelevant cosmetology license.
Sylla, who is represented by the Institute for Justice, filed a federal lawsuit last June after department officials arrived at her Kent, Washington, salon — Sally’s Africain Hair Braiding — and ordered her to obtain a cosmetology license. Her case seeks to hold the Department to the terms of a 2004 policy statement that braiders do not need cosmetology licenses.
“All I want is for the department to keep its word to me and Washington’s other braiders,” Sylla said in a statement to press. “I’m proud that my case has convinced the department to try and fix its policies once and for all.”
Sylla was blindsided by the department’s 2013 order that she obtain 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 cosmetology license. To obtain a cosmetology license in Washington, braiders would have to spend 1,600 hours in cosmetology school, where not one minute is spent learning natural hair braiding.
The department’s 2004 agreement with Diaw resulted in a non-binding policy statement. The department’s new agreement with Sylla would make that policy statement a legally binding rule. In addition, the Department has issued an apology to Sylla. If the department’s rule making efforts are successful, Sylla has agreed to dismiss her lawsuit. If not, the case can resume.
“Washington’s cosmetology officials deserve praise for trying to fix the state’s braiding laws,” said Wesley Hottot, an attorney with the Institute for Justice representing Sylla. “But this case is not over. If the department doesn’t follow through with a rule exempting hair braiders, we will be back in court. The government cannot license something as safe and common as hair braiding.”
Sylla’s challenge to Washington’s regulation of braiders was one of three cases launched on the same day as part of a new IJ National Hair Braiding Initiative, which seeks to protect braiders’ right to earn an honest living, free from arbitrary government interference. IJ is also taking on Missouri’s and Arkansas’s regulation of braiders.