Woman Sues Disney Over Harassment, Religious Discrimination

Imane Boudlal alleges she was subjected to anti-Muslim and anti-Arab slurs while working at Disney's California Adventure

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    Imane Boudlal, right, a Muslim woman who worked as a hostess at a Disneyland restaurant, covers her face as she leaves Disney's Grand Californian Hotel with civil rights coordinator Affad Shaikh, left, after she was denied by her employer in Anaheim, Calif., Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2010. Boudlal claims her employer sent her home without pay after she refused to remove her head scarf in front of customers. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

    Α former employee at Disney’s California Adventure filed a lawsuit against the company, claiming she was subjected to anti-Muslim and anti-Arab slurs and was fired for wearing a Muslim headscarf.

    Imane Boudlal, 28, alleges coworkers and supervisors called her her a “terrorist," a “camel” and "Kunta Kinte," the slave in the book "Roots" by Alex Haley from the time she started working at Storytellers Café at the Grand Californian Hotel and Spa in April 2008.

    The lawsuit, filed Monday in a federal court in Santa Ana, alleges harassment and religious discrimination because she is a North African Arab and a Muslim.

    "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," according to the complaint.

    Attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, who filed the case on her behalf, said Boudlal reported the harassment to her managers, who admitted a problem but never took action.

    In 2009, Boudlal began wearing the hijab, or headscarf worn by some Muslim women, in all public settings outside of work — where she was afraid she would be fired for wearing it.

    A year later, she said her request to wear the scarf at work was denied by her managers, who said the hijab would violate Disney’s “look” policy for its employees and would negatively affect the experience of restaurant patrons.

    She offered to wear a scarf in colors matching her uniform or with a Disney logo, but they offered her a choice of either working in a back area, away from customers, or of wearing a large fedora-type hat on top of her hijab.

    When she refused, she said she was fired. She has not worked there since 2010, said her attorney Mark D. Rosenbaum.

    Disney said it offered her several options to accomodate her religious beliefs and offered her several roles that would have allowed her to wear her own hijab, but she refused.

    "Unfortunately, she rejected all of our efforts and has since refused to come to work," said Disneyland Resort spokeswoman Suzi Brown.

    “Walt Disney Parks and Resorts has a long history of accommodating a variety of religious requests from cast members of all faiths.”

    In a separate case in 2010, Disney officials said they worked with another Muslim employee to design a scarf to match her costume and meet her religious needs.

    Boudlal, a naturalized U.S. citizen, said she faced harassment as soon as she started working there.

    “It only got worse when I decided to wear a hijab," she said. "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.”

    The lawsuit and asks for a permanent injunction requiring Disney not to prohibit employees from wearing hijabs, as well as punitive damages and anti-harassment training for company employees that includes Muslim issues.

    In a separate case in 2010, Disney officials said they worked with another Muslim employee to design a scarf to match her costume and meet her religious needs.

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