To Whom It May Concern:
I hope that after reading this letter you will fully investigate my complaint. (Giving me the time to refute anything Kathy or Holly have said when you questioned them and to provide witnesses for my allegations.)
My name is Jeremiah and I, until just recently, was enrolled as a student at the San Antonio Aveda Institute. I was enrolled in the Institute's first cosmetology class until I challenged one too many of Kathy and her daughter Holly's unfair policies. But I guess it is best to start at the beginning
After 6 years as Director of Human Resources and Training for Omega Cable and Communications, Inc., I decided that I would use my experience to start my own cable company. I found some investors, bid on a contract with Time Warner Cable, moved to Texas and started Pulse Cable and Communications.
My company did really well for a year or so, I had over 100 employees, until Time Warner Cable reneged on their contract by moving most of their installation work in-house. My lawyers filed a 10 million dollar breach of contract lawsuit while I laid off half of my employees and moved into private corporate bidding of fiber optic contracts. About the same time my doctors informed me that I was terminally ill and would probably only have 3 or 4 years to live unless they could stabilize my condition.
I don't know about you, but being told that you're going to die makes a lot of things look very differentall of a sudden you realize that there are things you've always dreamed of doing, but that you've never quite found time for. I looked at the last ten years of my life and decided that I didn't like the cable industry, I had never liked the cable industry, and that I would sell my company and do what I had always dreamed of doing hair. (I know, I know it's quite a career change, but a friend gave me this book about becoming a Daymaker and I knew right away that it was what I wanted to be.)
After researching the idea, I went to visit a number of different schools here in San Antonio, to look them over, and talk to the students none of them were quite what I was looking for. After deciding that I would move to San Francisco in order to go to the Vidal Sassoon Academy, a friend told me that they were going to open an Aveda Institute here in San Antonio. I was so excited! I started doing the research and discovered Horst, the Aveda philosophy, and what a great reputation their schools had in the cosmetology industry I was sold, I had to go to an Aveda school!!
The rest was easy, I got the email address for the Aveda Institute, sent an email to Di, and within a week I had an informational packet for the Institute.
After looking the packet over I had a couple of concerns:
1) The attendance policy was very strict, miss 10 days and your terminated from the program. (I knew that I was going to need more than 1 day a month off from school because of my illness between visits with the specialists and the disabling nausea I experience every now and then, 10 days would never be enough.)
2) The school seemed a lot more expensive than the other schools I had spoken with here in San Antonio
I decided that I would talk to Di about my concerns when I scheduled the interview/tour. The interview and tour were wonderful! The school was beautiful! Di was awesome! (She seemed like a real southern lady, like the women I grew up around back in Virginia.) I discussed my concerns with Di. She explained the increased tuition by telling me how experienced the instructors were and how expensive supplying all of the product for us to practice on each other would be. Then she explained the financial aid packages, that there was not any real aid, but as long as I had a credit score of 640 or above I was guaranteed a loan from Sallie Mae to cover it.
Then we discussed my fears about the attendance policy, so she called in Holly Zapada, the school administrator and owner's daughter. Holly was very understanding about my condition and assured me that as long as I could provide documentation from my doctor then the school would not penalize me for my attendance. She felt that it would be easy for me to make up any missed work, assignments, practice, or classes with the way the school would be set up, so that my request for exemption from that policy seemed reasonable under ADA.
I also explained that I might have to go to court for my breach of contract lawsuit against Time Warner Cable and that trial could last up to a week. Holly patted me on the shoulder, made a joke about taking on the big guys and told me that as long as I had documentation from the court then it would not be held against me. Holly then told me to get a letter from my doctor explaining my need for additional absences while she found out what other documentation would be necessary.
After that I was really excited about starting school! Di explained that we had to wear black pants and either a white or black shirt, so I want out and bought every cool shirt I could find. (Okay I admit it, I wanted to be the best dressed guy in my class and look like a stylist.) Finally, after being postponed a couple of times, the first day of schooled rolled around. The school was BEAUTIFUL! It was just like I had imagined a cosmetology school to look like. The other students were great, I had made friends with many of them within minutes. And the instructors seemed very nice and hair-stylisty.
Seeing a number of us wearing all black, Holly told us that we were expected to wear black pants and white shirts only. I raised my hand and explained that Di had told me, (and after looking around and seeing many girls in all black), other people that we could wear either black or white shirts. Holly said that she had decided to reserve black for instructors and that those of us who had purchased black shirts would be able to use them in a salon after we graduated.
Since I had spent over $1000 dollars on mostly black shirts I appealed to Kathy, Holly's mom and the owner of the school, but was told that I could write a challenge/solution. I didn't feel it was the end of the world that I couldn't wear my black shirts but I also didn't think it was right for them to tell us we could wear them, then just change their mindsso I requested a complaint form and turned it in.
The first few weeks of school were great, the media was there regularly. I was in the newspaper and even interviewed by two different television news reporters! It was fun to send my family back in Ohio articles from the newspaper and video clips from the 6 o'clock news that had me in them. (They weren't totally sold on me switching careers or living in Texas instead of closer to them since I was diagnosed.)
While the media attention was great and the novelty of learning new things was even better, there were problems from the start. For one thing, only one instructor in the whole school, (cosmetology or esthiology), had any experience as an instructor! Di had told me that part of the reason tuition was higher was because we had experienced instructors who knew and used 4 different teaching methods to make sure that everyone's learning style was covered.
In Cosmo it was apparent that all of our instructor except Jo were totally new to teaching. In fact, Dana was so confused as to her role as a teacher that she became irate and abusive to many of the students, reducing more than one to tears. Heck, we had it good compared to Esthiology whose only teacher was not even an Esthiologist, but a hair stylist from K. Charles and Company ,(Kathy's salon), who had never even given an Aveda facial until a few weeks prior to the school opening!
If the lack of experienced teachers wasn't enough to make us reconsider our investment in our future, then the funding issue should have been! We were told by Di, (and I have over 30 people who will back me up on this), the school would be using Sallie Mae as its primary source of student loans, if you had a credit score of 640 or above then you would have no problem qualifying for a loan, and if for any reason you were not able to get a loan through Sallie Mae then the school had a back-up program you would be able to use that had a higher interest rate but would give a loan to you regardless of credit history. So we all started school having been told all of the above but without having actually filled out any of the forms for our loans.
In case you're not catching what I just said we started school having been told all of the above but without having actually filled out any of the forms for our loans. We started school and kept going to school without ever resolving loans or manner of payment!
We were in school for over a month before they ever allowed us to fill out the financial aid forms. Every time I complained that we still hadn't addressed funding I was told, We are working on getting everything together. Jeremiah we are a new school and we need you to work with us. Don't worry, we'll get there together.
After about a month we got the forms, but then the real bullsh** began. The school ended up not being able to use the real Sallie Mae, they had to use the high risk branch. So everything Di had said about only needing a credit score of 640 or above was not true, I have a credit score of 720 and couldn't get a loan without a co-signor.
People felt angry and betrayed! There were almost no students who were able to get the loan without a co-signor! And many couldn't get a loan even with one! We were given less than a week to find a funding method or to get out! This is after we had been in school for a month waiting on them!!! Needless to say, some people were forced out, and many who remained were bitter. So I wrote a complaint!
I never received anything back but a verbal response from Holly telling me, it wasn't the school's fault it was misinformation from Sallie Mae.
One of the things I was told during my tour was that the school would have a fully stocked retail store of Aveda products that customers of the school and students could purchase from for their own personal use. Di said that students would receive a discount so that they would be more likely to familiarize and use Aveda products themselves. Di was right about the retail store, it was beautiful and larger than the Aveda stores in the local mall, but there was no discount. Holly demanded that students use only Aveda products on their hair, that students wear Aveda make-up, and that we were only permitted to use fragrances made by Aveda but she didn't want to give us a discount!
I wrote a challenge/solution form stating that Di had told us about a discount and after a while Holly started giving us Aveda Bucks for rewards pretend currency that could be used for .25, .50, or $1 off. Some of us amassed a few dollars worth of these coupons but it still sucked as a discount.
I wrote another challenge/solution and soon the Aveda Bucks were announced worthless and Holly agreed to give students 10% off from product! Wow, 10% off we get more of a discount from Sallys or Armstrong and McCall! Holly also announced that when we ran out of product in our kits that we would be required o replace it receiving our 10%. Some of us were very irate so we filled out more challenge/solution forms.
Things with Dana became increasingly horrible. Dana was verbally abusive to a number of students. Many of us went to Jo and/or Holly and were told that they would speak to her. It became really bad for me once I told her that I was gay and not interested in her sexual advances. She bullied me for awhile then she focused more of her attention on Aaron and pretty much ignored me. After a day when she became abusive towards me in front of a number of witnesses, I spoke with Jo and Holly about Dana's behavior. Holly advised me to write up an incident report, which I did.
As soon as students had 150 hours of class theory, the school opened its doors to paying customers. Many students were uncomfortable with the thought of cutting and coloring hair after only 150 hours of practice, but we were told that teachers would be there to help us. Understand, the State of Texas Cosmetology Commission requires students to have a minimum of 150 hours before they can work on guests.
There were multiple students who did not have 150 hours of training who were still forced to take guests!!! And I can prove it because both the record of hours and the records of guests taken by students are all computerized and recorded! I can show you on the Institute's own computer system that they violated the law because they were in a hurry to start making money off from student services!!! (At least one of these students repeatedly voiced her fear and was still made to take clients! She hadn't even finished the rubrics we were supposedly required to do before going out on the floor to do guests!)
We were told in class that we were not going to be cutting the hair of small children because:
1) We were not experienced enough to deal with their moving
2) The school did not possess child size capes
3) There were no booster seats or children's chairs
4) Holly did not want children running around the Institute.
But one day Chase scheduled me to cut his 3 year-old's hair. I explained to Holly that I did not feel comfortable doing a child's cut, especially on such a small child, but was told that I needed to learn sooner or later so just do it. I protested that we didn't have a booster seat or a cape, but Holly told me to put a cape on Chase, drape a towel around her nephew's neck, and have Chase hold him while I cut his hair.
I did as I was told, but the child was squirming so much that I decided to use my clippers instead of scissors because I felt it would be safer for both of us. Holly saw me starting to do clippers-over-comb and took the clippers out of my hand stating, We don't use clippers on members of my family use your shears.
I pointed out how badly the child was squirming and Holly finally said that I could use my blending shears for the whole haircut. Chase's son was squirming so badly that Chase started bouncing on his knee while I was cutting the kid's hair causing me to cut a huge gash in my hand. We couldn't get the cut to stop bleeding and there was no gauze or tape in the first-aid kit, so I was forced to wrap my hand in a towel and go to the emergency room where I received stitches. I wrote a challenge/solution form for the lack of bandaids, the lack of proper supplies for a child's cut, and for Holly making me do the cut when I knew it was beyond my ability.
In June I had to have surgery, so I went to Holly and spoke with her about the time I was going to be off. I asked her if they had finished drafting the forms they had originally discussed making for my doctors to sign, but Holly said they hadn't gotten around to doing that yet and assured me that the letter my doctor had written was sufficient as far as the school was concerned and that because of my disability the school would not be holding my absences against me. She then gave my arm a squeeze and told me just to hurry and get well after my surgery so that I could come back since everyone was going to miss me.
Originally the doctor wanted me to be on bed rest for 2 full weeks after surgery, but I missed everyone so much that I came back after only 1 week.
Over the course of the next month and half things at the Institute happened pretty quickly. During the tour Di had told me, and many other students, that a lot of our experience would come from practicing on each other. Before the school was open for clients they allowed us 1 day to work on each other, but they also made us clock out if we were the one receiving the service.
But after that the school strictly forbade us from cutting each other's hair or doing any services on each other. They had a meeting and told all of us students that the State Cosmetology Board had changed their policy concerning students working on each other and that any student receiving services would have to clock out, so that's why the school did not allow student on student services.
Now sir, I knew from the tone of Jo's voice that she was lying. Having been in management for 10+ years I know a lie when I hear one, so I asked what the TCC policy number was on that policy. Jo said it was a recent policy change and that it wasn't in the State Board Handbook yet. Holly agreed. Now remember, this was said to all of the students!
So I called Mike Rouff the Director of Education and Enforcement for the Texas Cosmetology Commission, and he said that he had never heard of any such rule. I went to school the next day and told Holly, who assured me it was a rule and that Mr. Rouff was mistaken. So I sent an email to Elizabeth Perez, the Director of Credentials, who also replied that we didn't have to clock out if we were practicing something we were learning at school.
I then filled out a challenge/solution form and turned it in the next day with a copy of the email. Holly told me that I had no business contacting the State Board of Cosmetology and Jo said that I had ruined the surprise student service days that she and Holly had planned for the following week. (Yeah right! But hey, at least we no longer had to clock out when receiving a service.)
Soon after we all went to the Serious Business hair show Dana quit. They said that she wanted to go back behind a chair, but the real reason was numerous students had filed complaints about her and there was a pretty bad argument between her and another instructor whose side Holly took.
So Dana left, and very few students missed her. (Holly had to re-teach the cutting techniques Dana had taught us because they had been taught so badly. When your investigating this complaint ask some of the students about Dana especially the male students who she sexually harassed!)
One day the school hung a note next to the time-clock stating that they were changing the attendance policy so that the school would no longer be responsible for warning students about their attendance or when that attendance was about to go over that same day they kicked out a bunch of people who they had not warned over their attendance. (Pretty shady considering the note went up the same day.)
I wrote a challenge/solution about them changing the policy and turned it in. While I was turning my challenge in, Michelle came up to me and told me that she had been in Chase's office talking to him about her attendance and had requested the ability to ask for an attendance exemption like I had, but that he had told her that the school was not going to change the policy for people with illnesses.
After Michelle told me that, I requested a meeting with Chase. Chase explained to me that my case and Michelle's were very different, she had an illness and that I had a disability. Because my case was so much more severe the exemption had been warranted. I asked him if there was any other documentation he needed from my doctors and he assured me that they had everything that was necessary. (A copy of the request/reason I needed to see Chase is in my file.)
About this time I ran out of an Aveda product called Hand Relief which student purchase and are required to use on guests for hand massage. Since I had used all of mine on guests, I asked to use the Hand Relief in the dispensary and was told that I would have to purchase more.
I refused! I felt it was absurd for me to be forced to purchase product to use on a guest a guest who was paying a product charge to the school for the service! I filed a challenge/solution with Holly and was told that my contract required me to buy miscellaneous products up to $700 and to keep each of the products available in my kit fully stocked for use on a guest! I told her that I would use Jergen's Hand Cream before I bought expensive product to use on guest.
Holly informed me that if I did then she would kick me out of the school! But she did agree to supply Hand Relief for students performing Manicures because the school supplies Foot Relief to students performing Pedicures. While this may sound like a small victory for the students it is utterly ridiculous!
Think about this: A facial at K. Charles Salon is $80 $40 goes to the Esthiologist and $40 goes to the salon but the salon supplies all of the product. Here at the Aveda Institute the school gets $40 for facial, but the Esthiologist are responsible for using the $1000.00 worth of product from their kit! So the school actually is making more of a profit than the salon!
Do you understand, students had to buy the original product for $1000, the school gets paid by a guest for a facial that the school does not have to supply product for, and the students have to replace anything they use from their kits when it's empty buying it from the school!!! Holly told me that if I didn't like the policy then I shouldn't have signed my contract and left the room.
Soon after this, a number of student's cars were broken into in the parking lot. We had been assured at a group meeting, (remember, I have over 30 witnesses to this), that there were cameras aimed at the parking lot and that there would be security on patrol neither of which was true. I wrote up a challenge/solution form about the promise of security in the parking lot and turned it in. The next day Holly called me into her office and told me that the school had never promised cameras and/or security, to which I responded that she should go ask some of the other students here at the institute. Holly declined and told me to remember that it was her school and that she set the rules not me!
I reminded her of the State Cosmetology Commission's Policy #1602.457, The holder of a private beauty culture school license shall maintain a cancellation and settlement policy that provides a full refund of monies paid by a student if the student entered into the enrollment agreement of contract because of misrepresentation made in the advertising or promotional materials of the school; or by an owner or representative of the school.
I told her that there were many things we were told about this school which were not true and that the lack of security in the parking lot was just one of them. Holly told me that she was helping me with my medical situation by granting an exemption and that I needed to work with her to make things better like she was working with me. The school had security guards hired two days later.
After the battle over security I was approached by a number of Esthiology students who expressed dismay at how their program was being run. I agreed to meet them after school and help them write a group challenge/solution. I met with about 10 people, helped them write a petition, and then gave it to them to do as they wished.
The next day Holly asked me how my meeting with the Esthiology students went I said fine and went to class. From what I've been told from an employee, one of the students showed the complaint (I've attached a copy) to Holly before people signed it, then some people chickened out of signing it because they were afraid of being treated differently, then they wanted me to re-write a small section but before I could do that I was told by Holly and Chase that they wanted to see me.
I met with Holly and Chase after school and was ushered into the conference room.
Chase told me that the school had decided not to revise the attendance policy to grant me an exemption. He told me that he, Holly, and their mother had spoken to an attorney and that since I didn't have anything from them in writing, then they didn't have to grant me anything! I told them that this was wrong, and that I would file an EEOC complaint, a State Board grievance, and that if I had to then I would go on a chemo/hunger strike in front of the school to protest their lack of compassion! Holly tried to explain that this was so everyone would be treated equally and that I was nowhere near my allowable 10 days, but I explained to her that this was also not what we had agreed upon before I ever signed my contract!
When I left, I went straight to K. Charles Salon to talk to Kathy, the mother of Holly and Chase and the owner of the Institute. Through tears, I explained everything. Kathy listened, and then told me, Jeremiah, we are much more willing to work with people who aren't always questioning our rules. I have an employee right now out with a serious medical condition who has never questioned me and who I could depend on to do anything I asked I've jumped through hoops to help her, but there have been other employees in similar situations who I have let go without a moment's hesitation because I couldn't count on them. Jeremiah, you don't need to be the Jimmy Hoffa of hair school! Holly has told me a whole lot about you about the incident with State Board, about some letter with the Esthiology students. Jeremiah, you really need to mind your own business and let Holly run the school.
Then I explained that Holly and Jo had told us repeatedly to write challenge/solutions whenever we saw something that could make the school better and that I really loved going to the Institute. I also explained that at least one student's family was told about my condition by Di and that they were also told about the school's willingness to make allowances for it. (A violation of my privacy and the law if I decided to press the point in court, but also a witness to what the school had said.) Kathy then told me to write and appeal, (I've attached a copy), and since she was a cancer survivor herself, she would talk to Holly and Chase as long as I promised not to help any more people write complaints. (A promise I did not agree to.)
As soon as I got home I wrote my appeal. The next day I turned my paperwork in and waited for a response a response I was not soon to forget. The next week, I was told by Holly that me, her, Chase, and Kathy would be meeting at 1:30 in the conference room. At 1:30 I checked in up front and was told to have a seat about an hour later was called in.
Upon entering the room I recognized Holly, Chase, and Kathy, but had to be introduced to their attorney. Kathy said that she had gotten my appeal and that since it was apparent that I was unhappy at the Institute, they had decided to terminate my contract. I asked why and was told because I was disruptive to the educational process. I asked for examples since I have never received a write-up or been sent home, and was told that they had plenty of documented incidents. I told Kathy and her attorney that this was unfair and the school was discriminating against me because of my request for them to change their policy towards people with serious illnesses or disabilities.
Kathy said that it didn't matter, I was disruptive and they were terminating my contract. Security and Chase made me gather my things and leave the premises the whole time refusing to give me a letter explaining my expulsion or any sort of documentation!
On 8/19/05 Holly and Chase had a meeting at the school for all of the students. During the meeting Chase explained to everyone that I had not been kicked out of the school due to my medical condition, but had been terminated because I was disruptive. (Once again, this was a meeting with all of the students to discuss my medical condition and the reason for my termination from the cosmetology program!)
I feel that my rights and my privacy have been violated yet again!! If I want to let someone know about my medical condition or the reason for my termination from the Institute then that is my right not the school's!!! I would like to point out that I was terminated from the Aveda Institute over a week ago and still have not received any documentation as to why! Or even been told in writing that I am really kicked out! I would also like to repeat again for the record that the entire time I was at the Institute I was never written up, sent home, told to clock out, or disciplined in any way! I have never even received a verbal or written warning for any behavioral problems or concerns!!!
Please read the student handbook concerning suspension, expulsion, and termination the school has decided to ignore their own policies/procedures! I ask that you investigate this matter immediately, restore me to school, change this unfair policy, and properly chastise the school administration! And while I know this is difficult do it all this week!!! I don't want to have to draw negative attention to Aveda or its schools, but I feel that I have been discriminated against and treated unfairly.
San Antonio, texas 78232, Texas