Louisiana regulators agreed to pay just over $100,000 to resolve a federal lawsuit that accused state officials and inspectors of harassing and discriminating against a group of Vietnamese-American nail salon owners, court papers show.
Records filed in federal court didn't disclose any terms of the settlement agreement in June. But the deal's monetary value — $100,000 plus an additional $400 for court costs — is disclosed in a document obtained by The Associated Press through a public records request.
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The settlement proceeds went to four salon owners and their attorneys. The deal resolved their claims against the Louisiana State Board of Cosmetology and two board inspectors.
The agreement includes a provision that called for keeping the settlement terms, including the monetary amount, confidential "to the extent allowed by applicable law." It also said the plaintiffs and their lawyers agreed not to "initiate any contact with any media" regarding the settlement.
Ruth Wisher, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Jeff Landry's office, said confidentiality agreements are a common feature in tort litigation but can't contradict provisions of the state's public records law.
"The settlement agreement is a public record now that the case is concluded," she wrote in an email.
The plaintiffs claimed the board disproportionately targeted Asian-American salon owners for frequent inspections, fines and disciplinary hearings because of their race. Board lawyers denied there was any evidence of racial bias in their regulatory activities.
The plaintiffs said Vietnamese-owned businesses account for just 9 percent of the roughly 7,500 salons regulated by the state agency, including hair salons, but paid at least 80 percent of all board-imposed fines in each year between 2011 and 2013.
One plaintiff, Thoa T. Nguyen, claimed an inspector unlawfully detained her and her employees for approximately two hours during a 2013 inspection. U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson ruled in a pretrial order that those detentions were "objectively unreasonable."
Another plaintiff, Mai Thi Nguyen, claimed her salon was shut down for three months by the board after they falsely suspected her of fraudulently transferring the business from its previous owner, simply because she and the previous owner had the same last name.
One of the plaintiffs' attorneys is former U.S. Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao, a New Orleans Republican who was the first Vietnamese-American to serve in Congress.
Wisher said the state Office of Risk Management would have paid the settlement money on the board's behalf under provisions of the state's self-insurance program.