UPDATE, 2:29 PM: The Walt Disney Company has sent out a new statement about Imane Boudlal and the discrimination lawsuit she filed today against her former employer:
Walt Disney Parks and Resorts has a history of accommodating religious requests from cast members of all 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. Unfortunately, she rejected all of our efforts and has since refused to come to work. – Suzi Brown, Director, Media Relations and External Communication, Disneyland Resorts.
PREVIOUS, 10:25 AM: The American Civil Liberties Union today sued the Walt Disney Company for discrimination on behalf of a Muslim former Disneyland employee. The ACLU says that Imane Boudlal was fired in 2010 from her job at the theme park for wearing the hijab headscarf at work. The organization, with law firm Hadsell Stormer Richardson & Renick, filed the federal lawsuit today. In a 28-page complaint (read it here), the ACLU went after the Walt Disney Corporation on seven counts including discrimination and harassment in employment, and failure to remedy discrimination and harassment. The ACLU and Boudlal are asking for a jury trial as the plaintiff seeks applicable statutory, actual and punitive damages under each course of action as well as her legal fees. In the complaint, the ACLU is also requesting that the court order that all “Disney employees, supervisors, and managers regarding harassment and discrimination.” Ms. Boudlal says that besides the issues of the hijab, in beginning in the summer of 2008 she became the subject of insults based on her religion, national origin and skin color by fellow Disney workers and supervisors. Boudlal said today that she was called a “terrorist,” a “camel” and a “bitch” by supervisors and co-worker as well as repeatedly subjected to comments about Arabs being bombmakers and terrorists. “When she reported these attacks to her Disney managers, she was told that she had to put up with them, told that Disney knew there was a problem, but that the solution was the directive from her bosses that she needed to stop complaining”, said ACLU chief counsel Mark Rosenbaum today. “Walt Disney Parks and Resorts has a long history of accommodating a variety of religious requests from cast members of all faiths. However, because we have not seen the lawsuit, we cannot comment specifically about this situation at this time”, Disney spokeswoman Suzi Brown said in a statement.
After two years working at Disneyland, the Moroccan-born Boudlal, then a hostess at the resort’s Storyteller Café, informed the company in August 2010 that she was going to wear the religious headdress for observance of Ramadan. Boudlal said at the time that she learned of her right to wear the hijab as she was completing her successful U.S. citizenship exams. With no response from Disney, except to say according to Boudlal that they would get back to her, the employee showed up for work on August 15, 2010 wearing her hijab. Boudlal says the company, who has very strict uniform and appearance polices, told her that day she would have to either remove the religious garb, wear a hat Disney provided or work where the public couldn’t see her. “My managers refused to permit me to wear a hijab even after I pointed out the manner by which other employees dressed and looked,” said Boudlal today. Declining those options Boudlal was turned away from work four times that week and on August 18 filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Boudlal says she even offered to wear a hijab with the Disney logo on it as a compromise but was rebuffed by her managers.” This is the most egregious case of religious harassment I have ever seen. At Disney, animated characters have more civil rights than the people who work there”, said lawyer Anne Richardson, who is representing Boudlal personally. “Through this lawsuit we seek to permanently enjoin Disney from requiring its Muslim employees to hide their faith and to abide by both federal and state laws on harassment and hostile work environment”, she added. Boudlal has not worked at Disneyland since August 21, 2010. On August 8, 2012, Boudlal and her lawyers got a notice of right to sue from the Commission, a source tells Deadline. This notice prompted moving forward with today’s lawsuit. “Had Imane been Princess Jasmine, a cartoon Muslim, Disney would not only have permitted her to wear a hijab, but also exploited it in the film Aladdin on the way to grossing over 200 million on revenues. But Disney’s tolerance of religious practices of Muslim women does not extend to real life women. Imane would have been acceptable to Disney only were she an animated character,” added Rosenbaum. “This is not Mickey Mouse bigotry, it is cold and calculating religious intolerence unacceptable according to our laws and most cherished values,” he also noted. This is not the first time Disney has been sued over the hijab. In 2004, a Disneyworld employee who also wanted to wear her hijab at work sued the company. That employee said she had been let go from her job in Orlando, Fla. after refusing Disney’s offer to work behind the scenes. The employee and the company eventually settled out of court. The employee did not return to work at Disney.