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Home / Top Headlines / Disney sued over discrimination

Disney sued over discrimination

BROOKS BARNES |

A federal discrimination lawsuit filed on Monday against the Walt Disney Company by the American Civil Liberties Union contends that a Muslim woman was harassed and unfairly removed from her job after a dispute over her head scarf.

In response, a Disney spokeswoman said its theme parks have “a long history of accommodating a variety of religious requests from cast members of all faiths,” but had no immediate comment on the lawsuit.

The suit, filed in United States District Court in Los Angeles, says that Imane Boudlal, 28, was called names like “terrorist” and “camel” on a “weekly if not daily basis” during her two years working at the Storytellers Cafe at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, Calif. Ms. Boudlal reported the harassment in writing to four different managers and none took action, according to the complaint.

The center of the suit, however, involves Ms. Boudlal’s decision to wear a head scarf, or hijab, and the resulting employment options Disney gave her. The company, citing wardrobe policies intended to suit a theme, offered Ms. Boudlal various hats in keeping with the restaurant’s early 1900s theme to wear over the hijab. Disney, which employs 80,000 people at its theme parks in North America, works out solutions to religion-related attire with some frequency in this manner.

Alternately, Ms. Boudlal was told that she could work “backstage” — out of public view — while wearing the head scarf as she pleased. Ms. Boudlal, according to the suit, “refused, explaining that she found these options humiliating and an infringement of her religious beliefs.” Subsequently, Disney “removed her from the cafe’s schedule,” according to the suit.

In 2010, after Ms. Boudlal took her complaints to the news media, a Disney spokeswoman, Suzi Brown, linked the accusations of discrimination to a dispute between Disney and a hotel worker union over a new contract. An e-mail statement from Ms. Brown at the time also offers another view of Disney’s version:

We met with Ms. Boudlal on Saturday and presented her with several options. She asked that the costume be altered. Those alterations were made and a modified costume was presented to her that meets our costuming guidelines and which we believe provides an accommodation of her religious beliefs. We also provided four different roles that she could transition to that would allow her to wear her own hijab. She has twice chosen to reject all of the options that we’ve presented.

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