BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A settlement has been reached in a federal lawsuit that accuses Louisiana regulators of harassing and discriminating against a group of Vietnamese-American nail salon owners.
Court filings on Wednesday didn't disclose terms of the agreement. Attorneys for the state and for four Vietnamese-American salon owners didn't immediately respond to calls and emails seeking comment Thursday.
The plaintiffs claimed the Louisiana State Board of Cosmetology disproportionately targeted Asian-American salon owners for frequent inspections, fines and disciplinary hearings because of their race. Lawyers for the board and two agency inspectors denied there was any evidence of racial bias in their regulatory activities.
A jury trial for the case had been scheduled to start March 13. Last month, U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson refused to dismiss the plaintiffs' claims before trial.
The plaintiffs alleged that Vietnamese-owned businesses account for just 9 percent of the roughly 7,500 salons regulated by the state agency, including hair salons, but paid at least 80 percent of all board-imposed fines in each year between 2011 and 2013.
The plaintiffs and defendants disagreed on whether the rate of fines should be viewed through the prism of all types of regulated salons or just nail salons. Steven Young, the board's executive director, estimated that 80 percent of all nail salons in Louisiana are owned by people of Vietnamese heritage.
However, Jackson noted in his ruling last month that plaintiffs have presented other evidence that nail salons are subject to more scrutiny than other categories of salons.
One plaintiff, Thoa Nguyen, claimed an inspector, Sherrie Stockstill, unlawfully detained her and her employees for approximately two hours during a 2013 inspection. Jackson ruled that those detentions were "objectively unreasonable."
Stockstill denied saying that nobody could leave the building during the inspection, and she didn't try to stop salon employees who fled through the back door when she identified herself as a board inspector, according to her attorneys.
Another plaintiff, Mai Thi Nguyen, claimed her salon was shut down for three months by the board after they falsely suspected her of fraudulently transferring the business from its previous owner — simply because she and the previous owner had the same Vietnamese last name.
The salons owned by the plaintiffs are located in Lafayette, Prairieville and Gonzales. Most of the owners are first generation immigrants who "tirelessly fought for the 'American Dream' and became successful small business entrepreneurs," their attorneys wrote last month.
Board attorneys claimed each of the plaintiffs has, "in some way," admitted to the violations for which they were cited.
"There is zero evidence in the record, direct or circumstantial, that Defendants intentionally targeted Plaintiffs because of their race," they wrote.
One of the plaintiffs' attorneys is former U.S. Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao, a New Orleans Republican who was the first Vietnamese-American to serve in Congress.