A Muslim employee in Disneyland's Grand Californian Hotel has been sent home from work with no pay for refusing to take off her hijab while working as a hostess in a hotel restaurant.
Imane Boudlal, 26, a student, filed a complaint against Disney yesterday with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission - the federal agency that enforces anti-discrimination laws in the workplace. Leigh Shelton, a spokesperson for Unite Here, Local 11, which represents workers at Disneyland, said the union is supporting her fight.
On Aug. 15, just days after the Islamic holy month of Ramadan began, Boudlal wore her hijab to work greeting customers at the Storyteller's Restaurant in Disneyland.
Disney told her that if she wanted to work as a hostess she had to remove her hijab because it did not comply with the "Disney Look." Disney further told Boudlal that if she refused to remove her hijab, she had a choice between working a "back-of-the-house-position" where customers would not see her or going home.
Since that day Boudlal made two additional attempts to work her hostess position, each time wearing her hijab. On each of those occasions Disney blocked her from working.
Boudlal said she decided to challenge the discriminatory treatment because "I understand my rights."
She said she learned about those rights while she was studying to take an exam for American citizenship, which she passed before she became a U.S. citizen in June. She said she learned, among many other things, about first amendment right to religious freedom.
"I realized the Constitution tells me I can be Muslim, and I can wear the head scarf," Boudlal said. "Who is Disney to tell me I cannot?"
Boudlal did not jump into the idea of filing a complaint lightly. At first she tried to work with Disney by requesting a "religious accommodation," something the company said it would consider. She said she waited for two months while Disney said it was considering her needs.
"Finally, I said 'enough,'" Boudlal said. "They cannot continue to violate my rights, and just string me along. Disney is not above the law."
Boudlal explained why she had refused Disney's offer to allow her to take a "back-of-the-house" position - out of sight of the customers.
"Their offer to put me in the back is humiliating," Boudlal said. "They're saying because I'm Arab, because I'm Moroccan, because I'm Muslim, they don't want to see me in the front."
On Wednesday the Council on American-Islamic Relations sent a letter to Disney demanding that the company accommodate Boudlal's request to wear her headscarf, and to amend its "look" policy to more reasonably accommodate those women who make such requests on religious grounds.
"There is no justification for Disney's refusal to allow Ms. Boudlal to wear her headscarf at work," said Ameena Mirza Qazi, staff attorney for the council. "To say that her headscarf would somehow impact guests is not only insulting to her, but is deeply offensive to the thousands of Muslims who open up their pocket-books at Disney parks and resorts every year."