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

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

Roughly 1,500 people will get some compensation for cleaning floors, washing towels and stocking shelves when they were students at Douglas J Aveda Institute, attorney John Philo said Monday.

The Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice filed a class-action lawsuit, alleging violations of federal labor law. Philo said the work performed by students was not directly connected to their cosmetology education.

“What this case says is 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 key rulings in favor of students during years of litigation, signed off on the settlement on Dec. 21. The school admitted no liability.

An email seeking comment from a lawyer for the school was not immediately returned.

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

“It’s potentially thousands of dollars for some people. Some others are likely to average 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 licensing exam, said there was always laundry — “load after load of towels, of course, washing them, drying them, folding them, putting them in the cabinets where they belong.”

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

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