scr

Eight African-American women have filed a federal class action against Hair Cuttery's parent company, saying the salon chain discriminates against black customers.

The move is the latest development in a lawsuit filed this year by Paulette Harris, who said the salon tried to charge her more because she is black.

In that suit, Harris said that she was told by a Hair Cuttery employee that she had to pay $8 extra for her shampoo because of her "ethnic" hair. Harris also said that she was asked to pay in advance because, she said the staff told her, "ethnic" people tend to leave without paying.

In the class action request filed this week in U.S. District Court, other Baltimore-area women recounted similar experiences at local Hair Cuttery stores.

All say they were overcharged for haircuts, paying as much as almost four times the listed price. Some reported racially insensitive comments made by staff members at the salons.

Hair Cuttery is a walk-in unisex chain with 800 stores, according to its Web site.

Its corporate owner, Virginia-based Creative Hairdressers Inc., has denied any discrimination, according to court papers.

Hair Cuttery lawyer Steven R. Semler noted in court papers that once Harris was told the cost for her haircut would be $21 rather than $13, she called the company headquarters' customer service department, which instructed the salon to charge the lower price.

He wrote that the company denies customers were told to pay ahead of time.

Harris' lawyer, Barry R. Glazer, said he was not surprised that more women came forward after publicity emerged about Harris' case.

"The incident was so outrageous," he said. "After speaking and dealing with Paulette, it occurred to me that this was probably extensive."

Danielle Peterson of Columbia said she was regularly charged more for haircuts than the $13 price listed for all customers.

Lillian Blackman of Baltimore said she was charged $48 for the $13 service and was told by the manager that the price was higher because "products are more expensive" for African- Americans' hair.

Johnette Smith paid $20 for a service that costs white customers $10, she said. The employee who shampooed her hair put on "heavy Playtex gloves," according to the suit, saying that she was allergic to the shampoo.

Smith said she had watched the hairdresser shampoo white customers without the gloves, according to the lawsuit.

The class action suit also names as plaintiffs "other African-American women similarly charged fees in excess of the list price based upon their race."

Harris' case was originally filed in Baltimore City Circuit Court. The company requested that it be moved to federal court, where juries are thought to be less sympathetic to plaintiffs.

If a federal judge approves the class action, other women who say they have had similar experiences might be able to share in any damage awards.

The lawsuit is asking for $100,000 in compensatory damages and $450,000 in punitive damages for each plaintiff.

Copyright (c) 2004, The Baltimore Sun

0 Comments

Social