Lawsuit filed against Disney alleges religious discrimination

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(CNS) – An ex-Disney employee filed a federal lawsuit today against her former employer, alleging she was discriminated against and harassed because of her religious beliefs. Imane Boudlal, a 28-year-old U.S. citizen who was born in Morocco, formerly worked at the Storytellers Cafe at Disney’s Grand Californian hotel. Boudlal began working for Disney in April 2008.

Boudlal, who is Muslim, alleges she was subjected to ethnic insults such as “terrorist” and “camel” by co-workers and supervisors. Boudlal said she reported the harassment to supervisors, who acknowledged the problem but allegedly did not take any action.

Boudlal got into a dispute with her supervisors in 2010 when she asked to wear a hijab, or head scarf traditionally worn by Muslim women, at work. After two months of considering the request, she was told she could not wear the head covering because it would violate Disney’s “look” policy, according to the lawsuit.

Boudlal offered to wear a hijab bearing colors matching her uniform or with a Disney logo, but her bosses instead suggested she work in a back area out of sight of restaurant patrons, her court papers state.

Boudlal says she was also given the opportunity to wear a large fedora- type hat on top of her hijab, and was fired when she refused those options.

Disney spokeswoman Suzi Brown said: “Walt Disney Parks and Resorts has a long history of accommodating a variety of religious requests from cast members of all faiths. However, because we have not seen the lawsuit, we cannot comment specifically about this situation at this time.”

In August 2010, Boudlal told City News Service that “I don’t keep rejecting (Disney’s proposals) for no reason. The problem is they don’t want an Islamic woman working at Disney.”

In a statement released today after the lawsuit was filed, Boudlal said she was harassed before she started asking to wear a hijab.

“Disneyland calls itself the happiest place on earth, but I faced harassment as soon as I started working there,” she said. “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.”

Boudlal also alleged Disney has a double standard with regard to its “look” policy, noting that some employees had tattoos and wore jewelry and hairstyles in violation of the work code. Christian employees were allowed to wear marks on their foreheads on Ash Wednesday, which would technically violate the policy, she said.

Boudlal is being represented by American Civil Liberties Union attorneys, who blasted Disney for the way the company handled the dispute.

“Had Imane been Princess Jasmine, a cartoon Muslim, Disney would not only have permitted her to wear a hijab, they would have exploited it,” said Mark Rosenbaum, chief counsel for the ACLU of Southern California.

“The film ‘Aladdin’ grossed over $200 million in revenues. But Disney’s tolerance of religious practices of Muslim women does not extend to real-life women. Imane would have been acceptable to Disney only were she an animated character. This is not Mickey Mouse bigotry — it is cold and calculating religious intolerance unacceptable according to our laws and most cherished values.”

Another ACLU attorney, Anne Richardson, said: “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.”

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