Moroccan American hostess Imane Boudlal sues Disney over discrimination

Imane Boudlal says she was denied her religious right to wear a hijab and faced harassment by colleagues

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 4:23am


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Imane Boudlal got a job two weeks after moving to California, a hostess position at a Disneyland Resort cafe.

She did not log many hours initially, as it was April, the slow season. But as the summer of 2008 progressed, Boudlal, 24, worked more frequently as the Grand Californian Hotel & Spa's Storyteller's Cafe drew more tourists.

It was also, Boudlal alleges in a lawsuit filed on Monday, when her colleagues began taunting her, calling the Moroccan-born Muslim a "terrorist", "camel", someone who learned how to make bombs at her mosque. She complained to her managers verbally and in writing, she said, with no results.

Now, Boudlal is suing the Walt Disney Company in US federal court, saying she was discriminated against and harassed for her religious beliefs. She also alleges she unfairly lost her job in 2010 after refusing to remove her head scarf at work.

"It's been hard," Boudlal said. "I thought it was just a matter of complaining and a few days and it wouldn't affect my life, but it turns out nothing has been done."

The lawsuit claims Boudlal, who is a naturalised American, decided to wear her hijab full time in 2010, about eight months after she began wearing it publicly. She contacted her supervisors at Disneyland to request an exemption to the firm's "look" policy - general appearance guidelines that, according to a Disney website, touch on items ranging from contact lens colour and visible tattoos to personal hygiene.

After weeks of back-and-forth with company officials, the lawsuit says, Boudlal received initial approval to wear a Disney-designed scarf, but was told it would need the corporate office's approval before she could wear it to work.

Not wanting to wait to mark Ramadan, Boudlal wore her own hijab to work on August 15, 2010, when she says she was told she could either remove the scarf, cover it with a hat or work in a job out of public sight.

She refused and, after a few additional meetings with Disney, filed a complaint with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The agency awarded Boudlal a "notice of right-to-sue" earlier this month, allowing her to sue.

Disney spokeswoman Suzi Brown said the firm tried to accommodate Boudlal's needs - as it has with religious requests from other employees from various 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," Brown said. "Unfortunately, she rejected all of our efforts and has since refused to come to work."

Mark Rosenbaum, a civil rights lawyer who is representing Boudlal, said his client had not been scheduled to work at the cafe since August 21, 2010.

"If you're a Muslim," he said of Disneyland, "It's not the happiest place on earth."