State sued over ‘useless, onerous’ licensing requirements for threaders

By: - January 17, 2022 1:00 pm

Iowa law books. (Photo courtesy of the Office of the Iowa Attorney General)

A Texas company has filed a civil rights lawsuit against the state of Iowa for requiring that hair-threading professionals undergo 600 hours of “useless” training to become licensed.

Arsah Enterprise Inc., which does business in Iowa as The Perfect Brow Bar, operates a threading salon at Jordan Creek Mall in West Des Moines.

The company is suing the Iowa Department of Public Health and the Iowa Board of Cosmetology Arts and Sciences to prevent them “forcing the owner of a small business to close his operation because of an unconstitutional occupational licensing system.”

The lawsuit describes threading as an “an ancient grooming technique that uses a strand of cotton thread to pluck unwanted hairs” from eyebrows and other areas of clients’ bodies. It alleges that despite the simple nature of threading and the lack of risk to the public from its use, the state imposes “an onerous occupational licensing scheme on individuals who wish to perform threading.”

Under Iowa law, a threader must be licensed by the Iowa Board of Cosmetology Arts and Sciences as an esthetician. Licensure as an esthetician requires an individual to undergo 600 hours of education in esthetics, which can cost more than $12,000, according to the plaintiffs.

“These hours are pointless for a prospective threader, however, because esthetics programs in Iowa do not provide any training to students in threading,” the lawsuit claims. “The students must simply pay for and complete a course of instruction that has no relevance to their desired occupation. After completion of 600 hours of useless classroom instruction, the students must also achieve a 75% or greater score on an exam promulgated by the National-Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology.”

The plaintiffs allege the exam does not include any material that is “relevant to the practice of threading.” They also allege the licensing scheme for threaders is disproportionate to the training requirements imposed for other occupations where human life and safety are at risk.

For example, the plaintiffs note that an emergency medical technician in Iowa needs only 110 hours of classroom instruction; a school bus driver needs only 15 hours; and a dental assistant needs only 20 hours. In fact, the plaintiffs argue, the “amount of classroom training needed to pluck hairs with a thread is nearly the same as the 628 hours it takes to be a certified Iowa peace officer.”

The company alleges that while it has applied its best efforts toward hiring individuals with an esthetician license, the barriers to obtaining licensure “make it functionally impossible” to find employees.

The lawsuit seeks a court order that will permanently block the board and Department of Public Health from enforcing any of their licensing requirements related to threading.

The plaintiffs are represented by Alan R. Ostergren, the former Muscatine County prosecutor who is now the president and legal counsel of the Kirkwood Institute, a privately funded organization that describes itself as a “conservative public-interest law firm dedicating to promoting the rights of Iowans.”

The state has yet to file a response to the lawsuit.

Licensure reform has been on Gov. Kim Reynolds’ agenda for the past few years. In her Condition of the State speech earlier this week, Reynolds, a Republican, said she and the Iowa Legislature “need to continue our work this session to eliminate unnecessary licensing requirements that keep people from moving to or working in Iowa.”

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.

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