Nashville judge rules in favor of Memphis barber without high school diploma

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A Tennessee judge’s ruling means victory for a Memphis man who just wanted to cut hair, but was prevented from doing so because he couldn’t get a state license.

Elias Zarate was working as a barber in downtown Memphis but was shut down in 2017 by the state of Tennessee because he did not have a valid license.

The reason — he did not have a high school diploma. Zarate filed a lawsuit and focused on his other passion, music, while he waited for the day a judge would rule in his favor.

“Barbering is embedded in me,” Zarate said. “It’s just in me since I was a little kid.”

In Tennessee, the law requires all barbers to have a high school diploma, but that law does not require people to have it if they are entering the field of cosmetology.

Lawyers from the Beacon Center of Tennessee, right to work advocates, joined forces with Zarate and tried to appeal to lawmakers to change the law, but the bill failed.

Lawyer Braden Boucek says that is when they decided to go to court and argue the law was unjust, unconstitutional and irrational.

“If you can complete 1,500 hours of barber training and pass two state-mandated exams you’re (a) perfectly safe and competent barber,” Boucek said. “Forcing someone to graduate high school where you won’t learn a single thing relating to barbering, it doesn’t do anything to help the public.”

A Nashville judge ruled in favor of Zarate, and the state is no longer the law requiring barbers to have a high school diploma. This decision not only helps Zarate but others who are in similar situations.

The state of Tennessee has the option to appeal but it is unclear if it will.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said he had lunch in Memphis with Zarate and other business owners a few years ago, and was encouraged by the ruling.

“Despite good intentions (and sometimes less-than-good ones), occupational licensing schemes across the country prevent people from working and supporting their families, and harm consumers who want the benefit of their work,” Pai said in a statement. “This case is a good example of that phenomenon, and it’s certainly not the only one.” 

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