August 13, 2012 10:58am PT by Eriq Gardner
Disney Sued by Muslim Ex-Employee for Alleged Discrimination
Imane Boudlal, a former Disneyland employee, is suing Walt Disney Co. over alleged discrimination at the theme park.
The plaintiff is a former hotel restaurant hostess who says she was told to remove her hijab and, when she refused, to cover it up with a hat.
She's being represented by the ACLU and by the law firm Hadsell Stormer Richardson & Renick, which put out a statement saying that she "faced increasing levels of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim harassment" during her two years on the job, "culminating with her dismissal in 2010 when she began wearing the hijab."
Boudial, a 28-year-old naturalized citizen of Moroccan origin, also released a statement on Monday: “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.”
In response to the suit in federal court, Disney put out this statement:
"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."
Boudlal says that during her employment she suffered ethnic and religious slurs and that her co-workers had mocked her by telling her that Arabs are terrorists. She says that she brought concerns to management, who acknowledged a problem, but took no action. She also alleges that one of her managers told her that she needed to stop complaining.
In 2010, Boudlal says that she decided that she would permanently wear her hijab and as a result, Disney gave her an "ultimatum" where she could either could be stationed in the rear of a restaurant with no contact with customers or she could wear several large hats
She filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2010.
Last week, she received a “notice of right-to-sue."
Her causes of action include violation of Title VII's prohibition of discrimination and harassment, violation of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, failure to remedy and prevent discrimination and harassment, wrongful termination in violation of public policy, negligent retention and supervision, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Boudlal is seeking a judicial declaration of the discrimination she suffered, an order permanently enjoining Disney and its officers from enforcing a policy that prevents adherents to the Muslim faith from wearing hijabs, the training of Disney employees regarding harassment and discrimination, and further monetary damages.
"The law requires that employers accommodate employee’s religious beliefs or practices," comments David deRubertis, an employment lawyer in California not connected with the case. "But it’s not only the law, it’s what’s right. Employees shouldn’t be required to choose between their religious, cultural or spiritual beliefs and their job."