Disney says Muslim woman had options in head scarf dispute
Disney officials say they presented "multiple options" to accommodate the religious beliefs of a Muslim woman who is now suing the entertainment giant and claims she unfairly lost her job at a Disneyland Resort café after refusing to remove her head scarf at work.
Imane Boudlal, 28, filed a federal lawsuit against Walt Disney Corp. on Monday, saying she was also discriminated against and harassed for her religious beliefs.
The lawsuit claims Boudlal, who is a Moroccan native but a naturalized U.S. citizen, contacted her supervisors at the Grand Californian Hotel & Spa’s Storyteller’s Café in 2010 after she decided to wear her hijab full time. She says she was told wearing her hijab to work violated the company's "look" policy — general appearance guidelines — and that after weeks of back-and-forth, she was told she could wear a Disney-designed scarf, but only after it received corporate approval.
Not wanting to wait to observe 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. She refused.
Disney spokeswoman Suzi Brown said the company tried to accommodate Boudlal’s needs — as it has with religious requests from other employees of various faiths.
“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 said. “Unfortunately, she rejected all of our efforts and has since refused to come to work.”
Boudlal has not worked at Disney since Aug. 21, 2010, said Mark Rosenbaum, one of her attorneys from the ACLU of Southern California.
She filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2010 and received a “notice of right-to-sue” from the agency Aug. 8, opening the door for litigation.
The lawsuit also says Boudlal was repeatedly harassed by her co-workers from the beginning of her employment, being called "terrorist," "camel" and "Kunta Kinte," the name of a slave in Alex Haley's novel "Roots." Boudlal reported the incidents to her managers both verbally and in writing, Rosenbaum said, with no results.
The lawsuit seeks damages for Boudlal, as well as harassment and discrimination training for Disney employees. It also asks the court to order Disney to allow Muslim employees to wear the hijab in public roles without a hat or other cover.
-- Kate Mather
Photo: Imane Boudlal, 28, a former Disneyland employee, announces a federal civil rights lawsuit against Walt Disney Corp. during a press conference Monday at the ACLU's Los Angeles office. Credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times