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Suit Against Makeup & Hairstylists Union Includes Claim Celebrity Hair Was Sold As Souvenir At Its Offices

Deadline logo Deadline 2/8/2017 David Robb
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Hairdressers and makeup artists come into close personal contact with celebrities more often than anyone else on set, but Deadline has found that sometimes that intimacy has been exploited for personal gain. A well-known makeup artist acknowledges that he has sold snippets of celebrities’ hair to souvenir hunters, and a former dispatcher at the Makeup Artists & Hair Stylists Guild, IATSE Local 706, claims that several years ago he witnessed a fellow office worker selling a bag of a Hollywood legend’s hair inside the union’s own offices.

“The hair that I witnessed was from Paul Newman, and I was shocked that I was witnessing this in the union,” the former dispatcher said in a taped conversation that was submitted as an exhibit in an ongoing discrimination lawsuit filed against the union by veteran hairstylist Alicia Tripi. “She had a plastic sandwich bag full of Paul Newman’s hair, and she did sell it … and I couldn’t believe that they were selling hair because I knew about DNA and confidentiality laws and all that.”

And there’s a market for celebrities’ hair, which can be bought at auction, at memorabilia houses and on the black market. Last year, a lock of John Lennon’s hair – cut by a barber 50 ago while Lennon was filming the movie How I Won the War – sold at auction for $35,000. And a single strand of fellow former Beatle Paul McCartney’s hair can be bought at Paul Fraser Collectibles in London for $500, as can a strand of hair from the heads of Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Katharine Hepburn and Justin Bieber. A single strand of hair from Michael Jackson, however, will set you back $1,250.

In her lawsuit, which was filed in 2014 is and still making its way through the courts, Tripi — who has made three losing efforts to be elected business rep of the local — alleges that the union and seven of its current and former officials discriminated against her because of her age, gender and Hispanic heritage and then blacklisted her after she filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

The trial is set to begin August 7, but on Tuesday, attorneys for the union filed a motion to set a new trial-setting conference for February 17 – the same date that the parties already are due back in court in connection with the union’s motion to strike and dismiss the suit altogether. Discovery in the case hasn’t even started.

The suit alleges that Susan Cabral-Ebert, the local’s president and assistant business rep, told a fellow member who was considering hiring Tripi in March 2012 that “Alicia Tripi is crazy,” that she’s “suing the local,” that she’s filed complaints with the EEOC and the state labor board, and that “If you do not want trouble, then do not hire Alicia Tripi.”

Contacted by Deadline, Cabral-Ebert said, “The local does not comment on pending litigation.”

The legal battle began in July 2010, when Tripi filed a complaint with the EEOC accusing Tommy Cole, the union’s business rep and highest-ranking official, of “refusing to answer my inquires or relay my messages concerning potential work assignments; referring to me as ‘crazy’ and ‘heavily medicated’; warning others to ‘stay away’ from me; and repeatedly excluding me from critical notifications regarding employment opportunities.”

Two months later, she filed a petition with the local’s executive board alleging that Cole and Cabral-Ebert had committed numerous breaches of their fiduciary duties in violation of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act. Tripi charged that Cole and Cabral-Ebert both used frequent-flyer miles accrued on union business for their own personal advantage and that Cabral-Ebert inappropriately held multiple positions within the local and had spent union money to fund an expensive trip to Washington D.C. that was not in the union’s best interests. Tripi demanded an investigation and an accounting and sought to recover damages.

In response, the executive board held two days of hearings and conducted an extensive document review investigating her complaints. Witnesses were called, including Tripi, but she declined to answer any questions unless they were posed in writing so she could review them with an attorney. Michael Blake, the local’s vice president, ordered her to answer, but she continued to refuse. Blake then prepared a report containing the executive board’s findings that Tripi’s charges against Cole and Cabral-Ebert were lacking in merit. The executive board presented the report to the local’s general membership at a November 21, 2010, meeting attended by about 90-100 members. After Tripi and several others spoke, the members voted to approve the “no merit” findings by a vote of 73 to 2.

Lydia Milars and Michael Germain, two of the executive board members who investigated Tripi’s allegations against Cole and Cabral-Ebert, then filed internal union charges against Tripi, claiming that her refusal to answer questions during the investigation violated the local’s constitution. On April 3, 2011, the local held a hearing on the charges against Tripi and convicted her.

On March 17, 2011, Tripi filed a second charge with the EEOC, alleging that the union had retaliated against her for filing the first EEOC complaint. The EEOC dismissed both the first and second EEOC charges, stating that “based upon its investigation, the EEOC is unable to conclude that the information obtained establishes violation of the statutes,” but issued her a right-to-sue letter anyway.

Then, on May 22, 2011, the union held another membership meeting, where the members voted to uphold the trial board’s conviction of Tripi on the internal charges brought for her refusal to answer questions during the investigation.

And it was during those membership meetings that Tripi claims that union officials defamed her and blacklisted her.

According to the lawsuit, Hazel Catmull, who was co-chair of the union’s board of trustees, called Tripi “an enemy of Local 706” at the November 2010 membership meeting and accused Tripi of costing the union $100,000 in unnecessary legal fees because of her complaints filed with the NLRB, which took no legal action against the local. At that meeting, Tripi claimed, Cabral-Ebert publicly agreed with Catmull’s statements, and Blake stated that “because of Alicia Tripi, Local 706 had to buy a new paper shredder machine and a new office copier,” saying that “there are mounds and mounds of unnecessary paper waste in the office.” Tripi claims that the shredder was bought and used to destroy evidence in her case.

According to the suit, Leonard Engelman, the local’s former business rep, called Tripi “a nobody,” a “dissident” and “an enemy of the union” at that meeting; questioned how she could live with herself; urged members to “not go with what this dissident says for she is not what the union represents”; and told members that the union needed “to be protected” from her.

These comments, Tripi alleges, were intended to — and did — harm her reputation, harass her and prevent her from being hired by fellow union members who had hiring authority.

Attorneys for the union claim in court motions that whatever was said about Tripi at the membership meetings was protected speech. They filed an anti-SLAPP motion to have the case dismissed, claiming that it is nothing more than a malicious and frivolous Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation that would chill free speech.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ralph Hofer disagreed, however, and denied their special motion to strike the complaint. The defendants then appealed to the California Court of Appeal, which last June reversed Hofer’s ruling in part, finding that many of the statements allegedly made by the individual plaintiffs indeed were protected speech. It then sent the case back to the trial court to determine whether the union and its officers had discriminated against Tripi based on her age, gender and national origin and retaliated against her for filing an EEOC complaint.

Dorinda Carey, a former member of the local’s executive board, said in a sworn declaration – and confirmed to Deadline – that she personally witnessed union officials making disparaging remarks about Tripi and admit that they’d blackballed her.

“During union meetings in August through December 2009, union officers Susan Cabral-Ebert and Tommy Cole repeatedly told me during one-on-one conversations that they thought Alicia Tripi was delusional, that she was crazy and no one is going to hire her,” declared Carey, who served on the executive board from 2002-10. “Cabral told me on at least two occasions during the August through December 2009 timeframe that the union had the word out on her to not hire her and that she would not get any work. Cabral also told me that ‘no one wants to get on the wrong side of us,’ referring to herself and Cole, the union business representative. During this conversation with Cabral, Cole came up to us and asked us what we were talking about. She told him: ‘Alicia Tripi getting work,’ and Cole said: ‘That won’t happen, I’m sure of it.’ I was shocked and just left it at that.”

Carey told Deadline: “This is a terrible thing they’re doing to her. Everything she says is true.”

The union claims that none of this happened, and has produced declarations from current and former officials who say they never saw Tripi being treated differently than anyone else. Three members of the local who are not involved in the case – and who asked to remain unidentified – told Deadline that they don’t believe that the union’s leaders discriminated against Tripi and that her problems with the union and employers “are of her own making.”

On March 23, 2011, Kathy Sain, the local’s office manager, signed a sworn declaration stating the she “never heard Tommy Cole, Susan Cabral-Ebert or any officer or employee of the Local Union ever say that Tripi should not get any work … or otherwise should not be hired. I have never received instructions from anyone that Tripi should get different treatment from that given to other unit members, and I would not do so if I were so instructed as I know that would be a violation of the law or the Local Union constitution.”

In 2010, Zach Harris signed a very similar declaration when he was a dispatcher at the local. “I have never heard Tommy Cole, Susan Cabral-Ebert or any office employee of the Local Union refer to Local Union member Alicia Tripi as ‘delusional’ or ‘crazy,’” he swore. “I have never heard anyone in the office make disparaging remarks about Tripi. I have never heard Tommy Cole, Susan Cabral-Ebert or any office employee of the Local Union ever say that Tripi should not get any work or should not be hired. No one has ever instructed me to treat Tripi in any way differently than I treat any other unit member and I would not do so if I were so instructed as I know that is a violation of the Local Union’s legal and union constitutional obligations.”

In 2014, however, after Harris no longer was employed at the local, he told Tripi’s attorney, Michael Ponce – who since has withdrawn from the case – that he’d heard Sain make disparaging comments about Tripi on numerous occasions. “While some of these charges occurred before my employment,” he told Ponce in an email, “I can confirm defamation of character within the Local 706 office and constant change in dispatch policy and procedure made by Sain. Sain constantly told stories about Tripi, including about a serious health condition that may or may not have happened; no one’s business, regardless of fact. Any ‘refusal of providing information to Tripi’ when she called dispatch was because I was following orders and reading scripts provided to me by Sain.”

Contacted by Deadline, Sain said: “I can’t talk to you. Sorry.”

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