For two years, Paulette Harris has had her hair shampooed and dried twice a month at a Hair Cuttery in Glen Burnie. Last month, when Harris, a black woman, went in for her shampoo, she said she was told the charge would be $8 more because she is "ethnic."
"I said, `This is ridiculous, I've never been charged extra,'" said Harris, 25, who has straight shoulder-length hair. "`You're not going to charge me more because I'm not Caucasian.'"
She filed a $600,000 lawsuit in Baltimore Circuit Court yesterday against Hair Cuttery, alleging negligent hiring and intentional infliction of emotional distress. She also alleges that she was subjected to discrimination and racial slurs.
According to the lawsuit, filed by Harris' lawyer, Barry R. Glazer, "Defendants knew, or reasonably should have known, that their employees were insensitive to persons of color and prone to make racial comments and slurs."
On March 11, the salon tried to charge the Hanover resident $21 for what she believed was a $13 service, according to the lawsuit.
Hair Cuttery is a walk-in unisex salon chain with 800 stores, according to its Web site.
Mimi Ackers, spokeswoman for Ratner Cos., which owns the Hair Cuttery chain, said she could not comment on the lawsuit but added that prices are not based on ethnicity.
"We do not discriminate based on ethnicity whatsoever," Ackers said.
According to Harris, while she was at the salon an employee asked her to pay in advance, stating that "ethnic people have habit of being serviced and leaving without paying," the lawsuit alleges.
Harris said in an interview yesterday that she declined to pay in advance.
A hairstylist herself, Harris worked at the Beltway Plaza Hair Cuttery near Arbutus for about five months in 2001 and 2002. She now is a stay-at-home mother.
On March 11, Harris said, she and her 2-year-old daughter went to the Hair Cuttery in the 6600 block of Ritchie Highway so Harris could get her hair done for a birthday party she was throwing for her 7-year-old son.
Upon arrival in the salon, one of the hairstylists told Harris she would have to pay extra for her hair because she was "ethnic," according to the lawsuit.
`It's going to be more'
"The lady yelled across the salon to me, `It's going to be more for you because you're ethnic,'" Harris said. "It was embarrassing." For two years, Harris said, she has visited the salon twice a month and paid $13 each time for a shampoo and blow-dry.
But this time, she was told she had to pay $21 for her shoulder-length hair, the lawsuit alleges. Harris asked to see a price list, which showed $13 for the service.
She then called the Hair Cuttery customer service line and lodged a complaint, according to the lawsuit. A customer service representative spoke with a hairstylist at the salon, who was told to do Harris' hair for the listed price, the lawsuit says.
Harris' hair was then shampooed and blown dry. She said she paid $13, plus a $5 tip.
When a reporter called the Glen Burnie store yesterday, a hairstylist confirmed that the cost of a shampoo and blow dry is $13 for shoulder-length hair, no matter the race of the client.
"Hair is hair, and shampoo is shampoo," Harris said yesterday. "You don't shampoo the hair any differently, you don't blow-dry it any differently."
Harris said she felt as if none of the stylists in the Glen Burnie salon wanted to work on clients of color.
"When black people come in the door, everybody runs," Harris said. "I think people are intimidated by their hair."