LOS ANGELES (CN) – A Muslim woman claims in court that Walt Disney Corp. fired her from her hostess job because she wore a hijab, or head scarf, to work.
In her federal complaint, Imane Boudlal, 28, a Moroccan-born, naturalized U.S. citizen, says she worked for Disney from 2008 to 2010, in the Storytellers Café at the Grand Californian Hotel and Spa in Anaheim.
“From early on in her employment, Ms. Boudlal suffered from repeated ethnic and religious slurs from her co-workers, which she reported to management. Among other things, she was called a ‘terrorist,’ ‘camel,’ and ‘Kunta Kinte,’ the slave from the famous book ‘Roots’ by Alex Haley. Ms. Boudlal’s co-workers also mocked her by stating, among other things, that Arabs are terrorists, that she speaks the terrorist language and that she was trained to make bombs,” the complaint states.
“Ms. Boudlal repeatedly reported the harassment to her managers, who admitted there was a problem, but who never took any action. On most occasions, Ms. Boudlal’s managers merely deflected the complaints by stating that it would take time to change things. Finally, one of the managers told her that she needed to stop complaining.”
Boudlal says that in the summer of 2010 she asked Disney for permission to wear a hijab, the headscarf worn by Muslim women.
“After a nearly two month delay, the managers denied her request, stating that wearing the hijab in her current position violated Disney’s ‘look’ policy. The managers stated that if Ms. Boudlal wore a hijab, it would negatively affect patrons’ experiences at the Storytellers Café,” the complaint states.
Shoe wore a hijab to work anyway in August 2010, and was sent home and told she would be fired unless she took a station at the back of the restaurant, or wore a large hat on top of the headscarf, Boudlal says.
“When Ms. Boudlal refused, explaining that she found these options humiliating and an infringement of her religious beliefs, Disney removed her from the cafe’s schedule and discharged her from further employment,” the complaint states.
Boudlal says Disney “rejected out of hand” her offer to wear a hijab that matched her uniform or was emblazoned with a Disney logo.
“Disney did not seek to enforce its ‘look’ policy against other hosts or hostesses at the Storytellers Cafe who visibly displayed tattoos, crosses, and other religious insignia or wore their hair or did their nails in an ostentatious and impermissible manner,” the complaint states.
Boudlal is represented by Mark Rosenbaum, with the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, and the law firm Hadsell, Stormer, Richardson and Renick.
In a statement emailed to Courthouse News, Rosenbaum said that “for all intents and purposes” Boudlal was “fired for her religious beliefs.”
“Disney’s tolerance of religious practices of Muslim women does not extend to real life women,” Rosenbaum wrote. “Imane would have been acceptable to Disney only were she a cartoon character. As a Muslim, she could have worked at Disney in one of its animated films, not at one of its restaurants.
“This is not Mickey Mouse bigotry,” Rosenbaum added. “It is cold and calculating religious intolerance, unacceptable according to our laws and cherished values.”
Boudlal seeks an injunction ordering Disney to let Muslim waiting or hosting staff to wear hijabs, and actual and punitive damages for discrimination and harassment, failure to remedy and prevent discrimination and harassment, wrongful termination, negligent retention and supervision, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Disney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.