California coronavirus nail salons

Certain beauty industry workers and business owners intend to keep pursuing a lawsuit against California Gov. Gavin Newsom and other public officials for imposing lockdown measures amid the coronavirus pandemic, even though they’ve been lifted.

While beauty professionals in the state and even in Los Angeles, a hot spot for the virus, are again allowed to operate businesses indoors at 25 percent capacity and with certain virus safety protocols in place, like mask wearing, the Professional Beauty Federation of California now wants some assurances for the future. The association is backing the four individual industry plaintiffs included in the lawsuit filed a week ago, but is not itself a plaintiff.

Fred Jones, legal counsel to the PBFC, said the goal now for the lawsuit is to get some kind of precedent-setting decision at the Supreme Court level. Plaintiffs are being represented by attorney Mark Geragos, best known as a defense attorney for celebrity clients, and his L.A. firm. Plaintiffs include a restaurant in Sherman Oaks and a small group of restaurant owners in Palm Springs.  

“Admittedly, the governor hastily announced the reopening, which I think caught everyone off guard, so we have to adjust,” Jones said. But the group wants an order that will limit the ability of the government to enact such sweeping closures in the future. 

So instead of reopening being a focus of the case, it will be on the reasoning behind enacting closures of businesses at all and the purported refusal by state officials to share data on contact tracing, along with their specific basis for deciding which businesses would be forced to close. The case includes some restaurant owners, who were forced to operate as takeout only for most of several months of the last year, but there is not any industry group or association joining the case.

However, Newsom’s office told WWD that state officials will “vigorously defend” against the lawsuit, along with any other “challenging public health orders implemented to preserve the ability of our medical system to provide needed care to all Californians.”

“We are confident the court will uphold the order, as have numerous courts that have recently considered similar challenges,” Daniel Lopez, the governor’s press secretary, said.

The National Retail Federation is another group to have sued the governor and the state over its actions during the pandemic, despite all retail being allowed to remain open since late April. The major retail association is taking issue with stricter safety rules put in place late last year, in order to better monitor workplace outbreaks, of which there have been dozens among retailers and related businesses.

In his press briefing on Monday, Newsom briefly addressed the legal challenges, saying “we will ultimately win these lawsuits.” 

“We feel like we’re on firm footing,” he said, “based on science, data and common sense.”

While Jones of the PBFC insisted the group’s lawsuit (its second, having filed one in May that it then voluntarily withdrew in July) is not ideological and that the PBFC is actually in favor of government oversight, being an association of state-licensed professionals, he thinks Newsom overstepped. And that his office became more concerned with “perception” than anything else.

“These small businesses have become the virgin sacrifice to the COVID-19 gods,” Jones said, “because the bureaucrats want to be perceived as doing something.”

He also argued that, based on tracing data that has been mentioned in San Joaquin county and the release of such data in New York, that there is nothing to support the closure of hair, skin and nail salons, because tracing data has shown the rate of these infections is low. The main source of spread for the virus in New York, for example, was shown to be people mixing inside their homes.

Jones said he didn’t think there was a meaningful connection between the low rate of transmission in such businesses and their being closed for most of the last year.

But California officials have admitted the closure of salons and restaurants and other businesses, like movie theaters and amusement parks, has been aimed at keeping people from “mixing,” which is a key source of spread. Still, the lawsuit doesn’t see that as reason enough.

“I can’t say what should’ve happened,” Jones said. “What I can tell you is [officials] knew months ago that salons can safely operate with stepped-up safety protocols, yet they continued to sacrifice us. That is the frustrating part.”