DETROIT (AP) — A judge has cleared the way for possibly thousands of people to be paid for work performed while they were cosmetology students at a Michigan school.

Federal Judge Judith Levy ruled Monday that students who cleaned floors, restocked products and washed towels were performing tasks that weren’t directly related to their education at Douglas J. Institute. The judge says they can be considered employees under federal law.

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The students claimed they could be sent home if they didn’t perform tasks at Douglas J. hair styling clinics. Levy says students had “little ability or incentive to say no.”

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Lawyers for Douglas J. argued that manual labor was part of the education, which cost nearly $18,000. Douglas J. has schools in Ann Arbor, East Lansing, Grand Rapids, Royal Oak, Chicago and Knoxville, Tennessee.

Attorney John Philo says the next step with be class-action certification.

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