Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Muslim Ex-Employee Imane Boudlal Sues DIsney Over Her Hijab

She's baaack. Imane Boudlal, the restaurant hostess who filed suit against Disney in 2010 for not allowing her to wear her hijab to work has filed another law suit.  I actually thought I was reading old news on Al Arabiya, so I googled her name, and sure enough this  Moroccan-American woman has decided to once again sue Disney. Back in 2010, Boudlal decided that after two and a half years of working at the California Disneyland Storyteller  CafĂ©  in the Grand Hotel she would start wearing her hijab to work.

Anyone who knows anything at all about Disneyland knows that they have a squeaky clean image to uphold and a very strict dress code. Every single aspect of Disneyland or Disney World is designed to be Disney-esque- from the rides and shops to the uniforms everyone must wear. This is not a place that you can come dressed as you please. And although Disney generously offered her another job where she would not be serving customers, this young 26-year-old (at the time) Moroccan woman decided to take offense instead, and chose to sue the company.
"Their offer to put me in the back is humiliating," she said in a statement. "They're saying because I'm Arab, because I'm Moroccan, because I'm Muslim, they don't want to see me in the front."

Humiliating, in what way? And no, they were not saying it was because she's a Moroccan, Arab Muslim, it's because they have STRICT DRESS CODES.  Disney hires have extensive paperwork to sign when they are employed which includes information regarding the dress code. Crosses, Stars Of Davids and any other religious items are to be worn UNDER the costume. Men can't sport beards and must wear their hair a certain, conservative length. She was obviously very aware of the rules and simply chose to buck the system either to make some money by suing, or to make some kind of religious, political statement. People have the right to fire or hire whom they choose and she's lucky they didn't immediately give her the pink slip. She deserved it.  If she had problems NOT wearing her hijab, then she should have gone elsewhere for employment. Like Target. I often see cashiers and saleswomen wearing head scarves there, she would have fit right in.

According to Boudlal, she discovered she had the "right" to wear her hijab while studying for her U.S. citizenship; she then:

asked her employers at Disneyland's Grand Californian Hotel [snip] whether they would permit her to wear a headcovering while working as a hostess, a spokeswoman for a worker's union said.

But when no reply was forthcoming, she decided to don the headscarf anyway, timing her decision with the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Leigh Shelton, a spokesman for the UNITE HERE Local 11 union said.

Disney bent over backwards to accommodate her by offering a 'backstage' job or go home, and each time she opted to go home.

Disneyland spokeswoman Suzi Brown said Disney has a policy not to discriminate. The resort offered Boudlal a chance to work with the head covering away from customers while Disneyland tries to find a compromise that would allow Boudlal to cover her head in a way that fits with her hostess uniform, Brown said.

"Typically, somebody in an on-stage position like hers wouldn't wear something like that, that's not part of the costume," Brown said. "We were trying to accommodate her with a backstage position that would allow her to work. We gave her a couple of different options and she chose not to take those and to go home."
They even offered her a specially made bow-tie bonnet to wear over her hijab, but the ingrate refused, saying,

 "The hat makes a joke of me and my religion, and draws even more attention to me. It's unacceptable. They don't want me to look Muslim."

Disney sees itself as a performance theme park. Uniforms are called "costumes". "On-stage" are the areas that employees can be seen. "Back stage" is, as it implies, away from the public. It's a little like a theatre production, where designers create the whole 'look' of a particular project. As an actress, I wear the costumes that have been designed for me, I can't suddenly show up wearing something that wasn't part of the design concept. If I was performing in a Shakespeare play and I happened to be Muslim and Ramadan came along, I'd be fired (and rightfully so) if I decided to wear a hijab as part of my costume.

Of course, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)  stepped into the fray as they often do, demanding that they allow Boudlal to wear her scarf.

"There is no justification for Disney's refusal to allow Ms Boudlal to wear her headscarf at work," said Ameena Mirza Qazi, deputy executive director and staff attorney at the group.

"To say that her headscarf would somehow impact guests is not only insulting to her, but is deeply offensive to the thousands of Muslims who open up their pocket-books at Disney parks and resorts every year," Qazi added in a statement.

Yes, there is justification since a strict dress code is part of the hiring process. It's shameful, how people have to bring in the race or religion card when oftentimes it has absolutely nothing to do with either.

After about a month, Disney eventually suspended her after refusing to wear the bonnet, and refusing on various occasions to work 'backstage'. So now, two years later, represented by the restaurant union Local 11, her law suit filed by the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) has finally been approved by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The latest Al Arabiya article titled "If you're a Muslim Disneyland isn't the happiest place on earth" -a quote from one of her lawyers- claims Boudlal was also harassed by fellow co-workers who called her "camel" and "terrorist", which is more than likely embellishment to sweeten the deal.  The ACLU is asking, in addition to damages,  that all Disney employees receive training to prevent harassment and discrimination.

Even though another young Muslim intern- Noor Abdullah, who had a similar dispute in 2010- was perfectly happy with her specially made blue beret to wear over her hijab, Boudlal has decided to make a major issue of it. Come hell or high water, she's going to either get her way or make a bundle with her lawsuit.

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