State Agency Writes New Policies to End Discrimination and Narrow the Scope of Joint Inspections in Lawsuit Settlement

December 10, 2009 12:00 am

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LOS ANGELES, Calif. – The director of the California Board of Barbering and Cosmetology, Kristy Underwood, has written new policies that spell out prohibitions on discrimination in enforcement functions and narrow the board’s role in inspections conducted jointly with other agencies, as part of a settlement announced today in a lawsuit brought by the ACLU of Southern California and Seyfarth Shaw LLP on behalf of several African American barbers in the Riverside area.

The changes in the CBBC’s policies stem from a series of raids conducted by board inspectors in conjunction with local police in April 2008 at barbershops owned and heavily patronized by African Americans. The settlement helps ensure that the board will limit its inspections to its mandate of administrative enforcement of health, safety and business codes, and will never use its inspection authority as a pretext to allow law enforcement agencies to conduct warrantless searches for criminal activity under the pretense of a joint inspection. The new policy also prohibits racial profiling in enforcement actions.

“We credit the board with recognizing that these guidelines will help prevent the abuse of its inspection authority by law enforcement while allowing its inspectors to carry out their task of assuring the cleanliness and safety of barbershops and salons,” said Peter Bibring, a staff attorney for the ACLU/SC. “This settlement helps restore the barbers’ standing in the community, and will prevent other barbershop owners from being targeted for inspections based on race or other discriminatory factors.”

In April, armed Moreno Valley police officers accompanied by state barbering and cosmetology inspectors burst into five Moreno Valley barbershops and carried out searches reminiscent of narcotics raids, even though the purported reason for the inspections was to inspect for sanitation and licensing issues. The “inspections” were conducted only at barbershops owned and heavily patronized by African Americans.

“The raids intimidated our customers, and destroyed people’s sense of safety,” said Ray Barnes, who was a barber at the now-closed Fades Unlimited during the April raids. “These barbershops were places where people in the community came together, and I hope with this settlement the community’s trust will be restored.”

“The way we were treated made no sense,” said Kevon Gordon, owner of the Hair Shack, which was raided in April. “We’ve been cutting hair in Moreno Valley for over 20 years. We’ve got clients who’ve come to us since they were kids, who brought their kids to us, too. I’m just glad our struggle will help make sure it doesn’t happen to other barbers.”

Under the settlement, the CBBC adopted a formal policy against racial discrimination. Another new policy spells out that the board’s inspection activity is not to be used as a pretext for “any other” law-enforcement purpose, either by the CBBC or another agency.

The latter “is a key part of the settlement, because it will help to prevent police across the state from using business or health inspections by this board as a way to get around the constitutional requirement for search warrants,” said Rishi Puri, an attorney at Seyfarth Shaw LLP.

The lawsuit by Seyfarth Shaw and the ACLU/SC also named specific CBBC inspectors and the Moreno Valley Police Department, which is run by the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department. No settlement has been reached with those defendants, and the lawsuit against them continues.

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