Kaitlin Welch just wanted her education.
As an aspiring beautician, Kaitlin enrolled at Phagans’ School of Hair and Design, a franchise of independently owned cosmetology schools around Oregon. She was attending night classes at the Northeast Portland location while working to support herself during the day. Her dream to become a hairdresser was getting within her sights after a year and a half of attending courses and cutting hair virtually for free when the situation there began to change. She went on maternity leave to give birth to her daughter, which they then penalized her for with almost $3,000 in additional fees for taking the time off. When she returned, she was the subject of repeated sexual harassment, body shaming, and bullying from both other students and faculty. One faculty member would call her into her office to accuse her of perceived sexual improprieties, shaming her and instructing her on how to live her life. A vicious rumor was started and maintained by students and staff, and after she had been publicly humiliated by her teacher’s behavior at her graduation ceremony she had had enough.
She went forward to the Compliance Officer to report her complaint, though the faculty that she was claiming about insisted they sit in. When she demanded something be done, they suspended her. They said that they would conduct and investigation and move her to the Clackamas campus, which is also owned by this franchise owner, Barbara Climaldi. She waited patiently, believing that they really would uncover the abuse that she was suffering and right the wrong. Unfortunately, they refused to do a formal and adequate investigation. They asked a few of the the teacher’s favorite students if they had seen any harassment, and then basically called the case closed. When Kaitlin requested a report, they quickly scrambled together an unprofessional document of just a couple of paragraphs. She then mentioned seeking legal council, and Barbara went beserk. She began screaming at her, putting her in tears, threatening to not let her return. Barbara acted on this threat. She later produced a document meant to terrorize Kaitlin into keeping quiet. She was asked to sign it, therefore giving away all legal rights about her sexual harassment claims, before she would be let back. If she refused to sign, then she would not be allowed to finish her school, of which she was only six-weeks away from her degree. At this point she has already gone $25,000 in debt to student loans.
She began picketing the decision on her own, then came to the Portland Solidarity Network for support on her campaign. Her story is shocking and outrageous, but not necessarily out of character for schools like Phagans. Together we organized the campaign to begin with a public demand delivery, which would show Barbara clearly what we expected of her and the school.
On Friday, February 13th, about 40 members of PDXSol and supporters joined together at the Clackamas Town Center location of Phagans for the demand delivery. Here were friends of Kaitlin, organizers from AFL-CIO’s Working America and Jobs With Justice, and several other political organizations and community groups. Together they were making a statement that this fee gouging and harassment will not go unchallenged. That ordinary people and students have the power to fight injustice.
Collectively, we marched into a busy Phagans location, crowing the front entry. There were students and customers covering the floor, all of which began rushing forward to see what the commotion was about. A PDXSol member asked for Barbara, and when he was denied he “mic checked” a simplified reading of the demands.