Beauty salon inspector accused of targeting minorities
April 27, 2010
A state inspector in charge of examining beauty salons and barber shops in San Luis Obispo County has been accused of leveling steep fines on local beauticians and disrespecting the salons’ operators.
Her behavior has caused some to question her motivation with others going as far as accusing her of bias against ethnic minorities.
A handful of local shop owners and their customers claim that Department of Consumer Affairs inspector, Lillian Heyck, has been “unprofessional and demeaning” to minorities in shops she is inspecting. While some claim her actions appear to be racially motivated, others question the state’s recent increase in fine amounts as well as the number of citations being generated.
Marriage and family therapist Rebecca Ferini arrived for an appointment at Professional Nails in San Luis Obispo during a state inspection. She sent a letter to the board noting her concerns that Heyck acted as if the owner of the salon, Karen Ngo, was unable to understand her and also brought her clients into the discussions.
“The inspector was disruptive, unfriendly and disrespectful to Karen and her clients,” Ferini wrote. “When she was finished she addressed all of Karen’s violations with me present and explaining them more to me than to Karen.”
Another client of Ngo’s arrived for an appointment before the inspection began. She said Heyck behaved “very unprofessionally, exhibiting signs of disdain because the owner spoke English with an accent.”
The retired Cal Poly staffer and client of Karen Ngo, who asked to remain unnamed, wrote a letter to state officials complaining about Heyck’s behavior.
“The inspector was demeaning in her speech and actions and highly disrespectful to the owner, treating her as if she was a stupid illegal alien,” the woman wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by CalCoastNews.
“To be honest, it felt like I had somehow stumbled into a situation where a crime had been committed and was being investigated, or I was at the U.S.-Mexican border, where an agent was interrogating someone that was trying to illegally enter this country.”
After spending more than two hours inspecting the small salon, Heyck fined Ngo $1,500 for items such as not having a chair marked as out of order, storing a mop in a restroom and not keeping a pedicure log book to note when she threw disposable pedicure liners away.
Ngo said that when she tried to explain to Heyck that she felt an out-of-order sign would look bad to customers, the inspector rejected her reasoning.
“She (Heyck) said American people don’t care about that,” Ngo said.
CalCoastNews called shops owned by Caucasians who regularly reported shorter inspection times for similarly sized shops and lower fines than their minority counterparts. While most salon owners complained that the state appeared to be attempting to level fines in order to increase revenue, non-minority shop owners said they were warned on some items, such as having unlabeled containers, that minority shops said they were cited for.
At the Paso Robles Design School of Cosmetology, instructor Julie Jameson said they were not asked about pedicure station log books, which she said they did not have, and were warned that they needed to label all of their containers.
Meanwhile, a few blocks away at the Secret Garden and Day Spa, which is owned by a woman who is part American Indian, Heyck cited owner Lisa Weber with not keeping a log book that details when she throws pedicure liners away and for not having containers properly labeled.
Weber contends Heyck focused on an American Indian esthetician when she was cited for numerous infractions, such as the esthetician not having a license, though it is hanging on the wall in the small room she uses for her treatments.
With projected fines of more than $6,000, Weber, who made approximately $14,000 last year, said she plans on permanently closing her salon.
It is a bad economy and these fines are going to shut us down,” Weber said. “Before the state of California was broke, we were never treated like this.”
Ron Schmitt, the owner of the Headsman’s barber shop at 464 Marsh St. in San Luis Obispo, also felt that the state Board of Barbering and Cosmetology is using fines to raise money for their own department.
I have never been cited before and she didn’t even warn me,” said Schmitt, who has been in the business for 48 years. “It is wrong. They are supposed to be here to protect us.”
Schmitt also noted that Heyck was rude and “burst in like the Gestapo.” Schmitt, a Caucasian, received fines of $200 following a 20-minute inspection.
“I have never been cited before,” Schmitt said.
Russ Heimerich, a spokesman for the state Department of Consumer Affairs, said that inspectors are permitted to warn a salon owner who has not been cited before or to cite them if the salon is “wrought with violations.” He contended that fines have not gone up and that the state was planning on going back to warnings regarding some violations.
“We are going back to the . . . fines (that can be waived) on pedicure station violations because it has been a hardship to people,” Heimerich said. “I was told fines have been the same since before 2005.”
However, a 2006 fine sheet shows fine rates much lower than the current fine schedules. For example, not having cosmetics in a closed container (Section 988a) was $25 for the first infraction and $50 for the second in 2006.
It is currently $100 for every incident of an open cosmetic container.