Imane Boudlal, a former hostess at a Disney-owned restaurant is suing the company, claiming that she was not allowed to wear her Islamic headscarf while at work. According to her lawsuit, which was filed on Monday, Boudlal says that when she showed up wearing her hijab, she was told to take it off. If she chose not to do so, her other options were to stay out of customers’ sights or — to go home.
According to The Daily Mail, the issue took form in 2010 when the woman was working at Storyteller Café inside Disney’s Grand California Hotel. She had learned while taking her U.S. citizenship exam that it is permissible for her to wear a head scarf to work and, thus, she decided to start doing so. While she hadn’t yet enjoyed this supposed right during her first two years working at the restaurant, she subsequently began wearing it to work.
It was then that Boudlal’s clash with Disney began, as she was reportedly sent home numerous times without pay when she showed up wearing the headscarf. The situation intensified when she refused to wear a bow-tie bonnet and a hat that was offered to her as a cover-up by her bosses; she also declined the option to work “back stage” and out of sight. At that point, she was suspended.
The Los Angeles Times has a more robust timeline of the events at hand:
The lawsuit charges that Boudlal, who is a naturalized U.S. citizen, decided to wear her hijab full time in 2010, about eight months after she began wearing it publicly. She contacted her supervisors at Disneyland to request an exemption to the company’s “look” policy — general appearance guidelines that, according to a Disney website, touch on items ranging from contact lens color and visible tattoos to personal hygiene.
After weeks of discussions with company officials, the lawsuit says, Boudlal received initial approval to wear a Disney-designed scarf, but she was told it would need corporate approval before she could wear it to work. Not wanting to wait to mark Ramadan, Boudlal wore her own hijab to work Aug. 15, 2010, when she says she was told she could either remove the scarf, cover it with a hat or work in a job out of public sight.
Disney spokeswoman Suzi Brown claims that the company did try to offer options to Boudlal and that they were all flatly rejected.
“We presented Ms. 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,” Brown explained. “Unfortunately, she rejected all of our efforts and has since refused to come to work.”
In addition to the headscarf issue, the woman reports being harassed by co-workers and, as a result, complaining to superiors — but to no avail. Managers, she claims, simply ignored the oral and written slurs that co-workers were purportedly responsible for. Boudlal was allegedly called “terrorist, “camel” and other disparaging names.
“It’s been hard,” Boudlal admitted in a response published by the Los Angeles Times. “I thought it was just a matter of complaining and a few days, and it wouldn’t affect my life, but it turns out … nothing has been done.”
It didn’t take long before Boudlal filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2010. Last week, two years after the incident originally unfolded, she received a notice of right to sue. Boudlal has been supported by her union, UNITE HERE Local 11, a group that has been battling Disneyland for years over an expired contract and is now being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Boudlal is seeking damages and harassment and discrimination training for Disney employees, the Times reports. Additionally, she’s asking that fellow Muslim Disney employees be able to wear their hijabs without restriction (you can read the full complaint here).
(H/T: Daily Mail)