Imane Boudlal, a naturalized US citizen born in Morocco who is Muslim, is suing the Walt Disney Company for religious discrimination and harassment. While working as a hostess at the Storytellers Cafe Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California, in 2010, Boudlal says she was forbidden to wear her headscarf because it was not part of her approved work costume.
As she said in a statement:
Disneyland calls itself the happiest place on earth, but I faced harassment as soon as I started working there. It only got worse when I decided to wear a hijab. My journey towards wearing it couldn’t have been more American; it began at my naturalization ceremony I realized that I had the freedom to be who I want and freely practice my religion. Neither Disney nor anyone else can take that from me.
In the complaint filed with the ACLU of Southern California in the Central District of California, Boudlal says that she asked supervisors for permission to wear a hijab. Not only was her request denied but she was told that wearing the hijab would “negatively affect patrons’ experiences at the Storytellers Cafe.”
Boudlal says that coworkers and supervisors directed anti-Muslim and anti-Arab slurs towards her, calling her a “terrorist,” “camel” and “Kunta Kinte” (a reference to the slave from Alex Haley’s book Roots) and told her that “Arabs are terrorists, that she spoke a terrorist language and was trained to make bombs.” After telling her manager about such harassment, Boudlai said that it was acknowledged it as a problem but no action was taken. She was told that it would take time for a change.”
If even some of these allegations are true, I’m deeply disturbed by such behavior on the part of Disney employees and that this was allowed to continue.
Boudlal at first did not wear her hijab for fear of being fired. After being told she could not wear it, she tried to wear a hijab in colors matching her uniform or bearing a Disney logo but was told she would have to work at the back of the cafe or wear a hat on top of her headscarf. Disney offered her the option of wearing specially designed uniforms that a Muslim employee who was a vacation planner at a Florida Disney park had worn after being told she could not wear her hijab.
Boudlal refused these options. After three months of working at Disney and attempting to contact other supervisors, Boudlal filed a written complaint. One supervisor told her to stop complaining and she was eventually taken off the schedule and fired.
Disney’s view is that the company offered Boudlal “multiple options”:
Walt Disney Parks and Resorts has a history of accommodating religious requests from cast members of all faiths.We presented Ms Boudlal with multiple options to accommodate her religious beliefs, as well as offered her several roles that would have allowed her to wear her own hijab. Unfortunately, she rejected all of our efforts and has since refused to come to work.
Boudlal is seeking punitive damages from Disney as well as a permanent injunction that employees not be prohibited for wearing hijabs and for Disney anti-harassment training to include Muslim issues.
Disney may have a “history” of accommodating the religious beliefs of its employees but in Boudlal’s case, its inadequate and insensitive response to her requests is completely behind the times.
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Photo by Loren Javier