A five dollar surcharge is costing a salon owner in DeKalb County, Georgia a big headache. Reported on national news outlets, owner of the Natural Nails nail salon, Kim Tran, charged customer Michelle Fonville an extra $5.00. When Fonville asked why, she was told it was due to her weight. According to the salon owner, the pedicure chairs the salon uses are made to hold only up to 200 lbs and can cost up to $2,400 to fix, thus the overweight fee. But Fonville is calling it discrimination.
The TODAYShow.com reports that Fonville says she was humiliated by the experience. While Fonville's extra $5.00 was in the end, refunded, the Natural Nails owner told Fonville to take her business elsewhere in the future. For her part, Fonville will and is hoping others will do likewise.
"While hair and nail salons are generally free to price their products and services to fit their particular market, the Professional Beauty Association encourages salons to be customer and service focused," Marissa Porcaro, the PBA's marketing and communications manager, told TODAYshow.com. "When considering implementing surcharges or special pricing, salons should really consider the long-term impact on business. A savvy business owner will balance the costs and benefits."
Porcaro may have hit the nail on the head. While the question of discrimination based on weight might still be not as common or easy to prove as those based on the familiar characteristics of race or religion, business owners may take a more direct lesson from this story. Unless directly linked to identifiable differences (hair salons often charge more to blow-dry longer hair), pricing variations for different types of customers can be legally tough to defend as well as costly in terms of customer goodwill.
One of the best known examples of price discrimination was the practice of dry cleaners charging more to clean women's blouses than similarly sized and made men's shirts. This price difference for the same service lead to the state of California passing the Gender Tax Repeal Act of 1995 which prohibited the practice of price discrimination by dry cleaners and other service providers.
In the case of the Natural Nails overweight fee, owner Kim Tran may well be trying to protect her substantial investment in the costly pedicure chairs. However, it is difficult to see how a $5 surcharge, unless charged hundreds of times each day, would help defer the over $2,000 dollar cost of fixing a broken chair. In the long run, the negative publicity the salon is receiving may end up costing much more.