Joining decisions from other parts of the country, a California federal judge has held that former cosmetology and “hair design” students were not “employees” under the Fair Labor Standards Act or the wage-and-hour laws of California and Nevada entitled to minimum wage. Benjamin v. B & H Education, Inc., et al., 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 144351 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 16, 2015).

In Benjamin, the court rejected plaintiffs’ claim that while enrolled at Defendants’ beauty schools they were employees who essentially functioned as workers, entitling them to minimum wage protection. The plaintiffs were enrolled in clinical training program in which they were to receive “hundreds of hours of clinical training” while cutting hair and applying makeup. Although patrons paid for these services, the plaintiffs were unpaid.

Applying the Second Circuit’s “primary beneficiary” test (recently adopted by the Eleventh Circuit), the court found that the evidence put forth by the plaintiffs regarding the duties they performed and economic impact of their alleged “work” was too “vague and sparse” to rebut Defendants’ cross-motion for summary judgment. The court noted that the plaintiffs failed to provide specific evidence that they did not receive an educational benefit from their work, nor did they submit sufficient evidence that a large portion of their time was taken up by non-cosmetological work related to their studies, such as cleaning up around the salon, doing laundry or covering the phones. Further, the court noted that “professional cosmetologists and hair designers can expect to do similar work in most professions, so such work is relevant in preparing for the plaintiffs’ chosen professions.”

The Benjamin decision is further support for the position that, properly constructed, unpaid vocational programs such as Defendants’ beauty school do not run afoul of the FLSA and state wage-and-hour statutes.