LITTLE ROCK, Ark.—An Alabama woman is seeking class-action status for a lawsuit against a Dillard’s Inc. hair salon for allegedly charging black women more than white women.
Debbie Deavers Sturvisant alleges that a hair salon in a Tuscaloosa, Ala., Dillard’s department store charged $35 to wash and set her hair, while white women paid $20 for the same service.
Sturvisant’s lawsuit could bring a whole new level of attention to the general practice across the country of charging differently for hair care based on ethnicity.
Officials in Arizona, California, Florida, Maryland and Massachusetts have already addressed race—and sex-based pricing differences at hair salons.
Tom McArthur, an instructor and manager of ABC Barber College in Hot Springs, Ark., said different charges based on race and sex are typical. Training manuals routinely note major differences between “black hair” and other ethnic groups’ hair, he said. Also, he said, additional skills must be taught to cut the coarse, tightly curled hair commonly called “black hair.”
“It’s a whole new way of cutting. Not everyone can do it. I cut both and I do it pretty fast, but I grew up in this business,” McArthur said.
The more a stylist has to do with the hair, the more the customer can be charged. McArthur said that explains why women are generally charged about twice as much as men.
Still, civil-rights law expert Robert Belton said Dillard’s could be in trouble if the pricing is determined solely on race, and not on other factors, like amount or style of hair.
“If they’re saying that because of a person’s color that it takes more time, then it’s obvious that it’s race,” said Belton, a professor at Vanderbilt University Law School.