It is still a world of hope and a world of fear, but Disney is now being sued over claims that suggest the company may have forgotten the chorus to “It’s a Small World.” Imane Boudlal, a 24-year-old native of Morocco who claims she was harassed by her peers while working as a hostess at Disneyland’s Storyteller Café in 2010, filed suit yesterday against Walt Disney Corp. in federal court, claiming discrimination and harassment for her religious beliefs. Not only does Boudlal insist that her complaints to the company went unaddressed after she notified managers verbally and in writing that she had been called disgusting racial and religious epithets like “camel” and “terrorist,” but the naturalized U.S. citizen also claims she lost her job for wearing a hijab, a traditional Muslim veil.
The L.A. Times reports that Boudlal’s lawsuit details her many discussions with supervisors over possible exemptions to the company’s employee appearance policy which eventually led to permission for her to wear a Disney-designed headscarf (the theme park famously used to bar hippies from entering, too, a policy sadly no longer in place). Before Mickey and the rest of the corporate board could sign off on it, the employee wore her own hijab to work during Ramadan, at which point she was asked to remove the headscarf, cover it with a hat, or take a job out of sight of the public, to which she refused.
Disney says it offered several alternatives to the worker and respects the religious requests of all employees of various faiths, even if it seeks to sweep hijab out of public view or under a hat. The company drew additional heat soon after Boudlal filed her complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, when another Muslim employee was told she couldn’t work in sight of the public. That staffer eventually agreed to wear a headscarf topped with a beret-like hat and kept her job. The company, for its part, claims it never dismissed or fired Boudlal, with a spokesperson insisting, “she rejected all of our efforts and has since refused to come to work.”
Boudlal is now suing for damages and pushing Disney to require training for its employees that would address discrimination, and is also pressing the company to permit its workers to wear hijab without having to cover it with a hat, beret, or giant Winnie the Pooh head.