The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a workplace discrimination lawsuit against Disney on behalf of a former employee. Imane Boudlal, 28, a U.S. citizen born in Morocco, previously worked at Storytellers Cafe at the Grand Californian Hotel in Anaheim. She says she became the target of discrimination based on her Muslim beliefs while working there, enduring ethnic insults such as “terrorist” and “camel” from her former co-workers and supervisors. Boudlal, who began working for Disney in April 2008, claims her supervisors acknowledged the problem but took no action when she reported the harassment.
In addition to being verbally harassed, Boudlal encountered resistance when she requested to wear a hijab at work, which is a head scarf traditionally worn by Muslim women. According to the Los Angeles Daily News, the lawsuit alleges that after Boudlal’s request was considered for two months, she was ultimately told a hijab “would violate Disney’s ‘look’ policy.” Even after she offered to wear one which bore the Disney logo or had colors matching her employee uniform, her supervisors suggested that she work out of sight from restaurant patrons or wear a large fedora-type hat over her hijab. According to the lawsuit, she was fired when she refused either of those options.
Following the lawsuit filing, Boudlal released this 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 could not 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.”
The ACLU believes Disney handled the hijab dispute poorly, to say the least. According to Mark Rosenbaum, chief counsel for the ACLU of Southern California, “Had Imane been Princess Jasmine, a cartoon Muslim, Disney would not only have permitted her to wear a hijab, they would have exploited it.” Anne Richardson, another ACLU attorney, also commented on the issue: “At Disney, animated characters have more civil rights than the people who work there. This is modern day Jim Crow. Muslims who want to express their religion by wearing a headscarf have to work in the back, out of sight.”
Employees in the U.S. are legally protected from discrimination and harassment based on their religious beliefs, race, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, age or disability. If you have been the victim of workplace discrimination, a Los Angeles employment attorney can protect your rights under federal and state law. To learn about your legal rights, contact an experienced Los Angeles employment lawyer today.