Michigan cosmetology school agrees to $2.8 million settlement in unpaid labor dispute

DETROIT– A judge has approved a $2.8 million settlement in a dispute over unpaid work performed by aspiring hairstylists at a cosmetology school in Michigan.

About 1,500 people will receive compensation for cleaning floors, washing towels and stocking shelves while they were students at the Douglas J Aveda Institute, attorney John Philo said Monday.

The Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice has filed a class action lawsuit alleging violations of federal labor law. Philo said the students' work was not directly related to their cosmetology training.

“What this case says is that there are limits to what you can ask of your students,” said Philo, who handled the case with attorney Kathryn Bruner James.

U.S. District Judge Judith Levy, who made important rulings in favor of the students during years of litigation, signed the settlement on December 21. The school did not admit liability.

An email seeking comment from an attorney for the school was not immediately returned.

Philo said compensation for former students who signed up for the settlement will depend on the number of hours worked. The lawsuit was filed in 2014.

“For some people it's potentially thousands of dollars. Some others will probably average into the hundreds,” he said.

Nearly 30% of the deal, $794,000, will go to lawyers for the students.

Earlier in the case, Joy Eberline, who completed the program in 2012 and passed a state exam, said there was always laundry — “load after load of towels of course, washing, drying, folding, in the closets where they belong.”

The school has locations in Ann Arbor, East Lansing, Grand Rapids and Royal Oak. Tuition for the cosmetology program is over $20,000.


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