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Muslim Woman Charges Disney with Religious Discrimination

August 15, 2012
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Related Topics: Harassment, Dress & Appearance, Discrimination and EEOC Compliance, Diversity, Policies and Procedures, Latest News
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A former Walt Disney Corp. employee filed suit against the company on Monday charging it with religious discrimination and harassment in a dispute that centered over her hijab, the headscarf worn by Muslim women.

According to the lawsuit filed in federal district court in Imane Boudlal v. Walt Disney Corp., Boudlal, a naturalized U.S. citizen of Moroccan origin who is Muslim, began working as a hostess at the Storytellers Café in the Grand California Hotel and Spa, part of the complex operated by Disney in Anaheim, Calif., in April 2008.

From early on she "suffered from repeated ethnic and religious slurs" from her co-workers, according to the lawsuit. In June 2010, Boudlal decided to permanently wear her hijab, and asked her supervisors' permission to wear it at work. She was told it violated Disney's "look" policy and would "negatively affect patron's experiences at the café."

"Disney did not seek to enforce its 'look' policy against other hosts or hostesses at the Storytellers Café who visibly displayed tattoos, crosses, and other religious insignia or wore their hair or did their nails in an ostentatious and impermissible manner," says the complaint.

Negotiations between Boudlal and Disney ensued, according to the lawsuit. Compromises she offered, including wearing a hijab in colors matching her uniform and bearing a Disney logo, were rejected by the company, while Boudlal rejected Disney's suggestion she work elsewhere in its complex away from public view, according to the lawsuit. She is "no longer an active employee at Disney," says the complaint.

Boudlal filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing in August 2010, and received her notice of right to sue from the EEOC last week. Boudlal's attorneys include Mark Rosenblum, chief counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California in Los Angeles.

Disney issued a statement that said, "Walt Disney Parks and Resorts has a history of accommodating religious requests from cast members of all faiths. We presented 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."

Judy Greenwald writes for Business Insurance, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, email editors@workforce.com.

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