A Richland cosmetology school that faced allegations of student mistreatment will not have to pay damages to a former student who claimed it cheated her out of training hours and improperly billed her.
A Benton County jury found Tuesday that the Academy of Cosmetology doesn’t have to pay Jennifer Nelson damages for allegedly breaching a yearlong contract signed in 2012. The jury awarded the school more than $3,000 in damages, which was the amount Nelson was billed for overtime training hours.
The verdict came in less than an hour after closing arguments following a seven-day civil trial in Benton County District Court.
Nelson sued the school after claiming staff breached the contract and violated the Consumer Protection Act. The contract said Nelson would get 1,800 hours of training during a year in exchange for $15,000.
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The Richland woman, who sought $30,000 in damages, reportedly finished only 1,323 hours of training. She claims staff prevented her from graduating by using deceptive practices such as a broken timeclock and scaling back the hours the business was open.
The state-licensed school, run by Shannon Petrak, is in the Uptown Shopping Center and provides cosmetology training to students so they can become state certified.
Lawyers for the academy argued that there was no evidence that staff violated the Consumer Protection Act. They painted Nelson as a disgruntled former student who simply failed to finish her training on time.
“You don’t get to sue people on allegations. You have to have proof,” said Richland attorney George Telquist. “Ms. Nelson is just upset because she didn’t fulfill her contractual obligations.”
Nelson and others who attended the school claimed staff repeatedly mistreated students, verbally abused them and used deceptive practices to ensure students would take longer to graduate.
Some students claimed the staff tried to keep them longer to make a bigger profit. If students go beyond their contract, the school charges $15 for each hour of training.
Nelson, a mother of four, previously referred to her experience at the school as a “living nightmare.” Her attorney, Greg Dow, could not be reached after the verdict.
After the lawsuit was filed, protesters picketed the school. A Facebook page urging a boycott has more than 140 likes, and other students came forward with similar allegations.
However, reviews by the Washington Department of Labor and Industries and a state auditor found the school is efficiently run and staff are financially responsible, Telquist said. Petrak’s lawyers denied the mistreatment allegations.
The reviews revealed the school was “one of the top performers of cosmetology schools in the state,” Telquist said.
“My clients feel like finally the story has been told. They have had people picket in front of their business,” he said. “We were here for seven days and the jury came back in 45 minutes. That’s how clear the evidence was.”