[UPDATED with Park Reaction, 5 Boudlal v. Disney Surprises:] Imane Boudlal, Who Clashed with Disney over Wearing Hijab on Job, Sues

See the update at the end of this post on Disney's response and five surprising allegations from Boudlal v. Disney.

ORIGINAL POST, AUG. 13, 9:17 A.M.: At 10:30 this morning, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and the law offices of Hadsell Stormer Richardson & Renick are scheduled to announce "a lawsuit against a major media and entertainment company on behalf of a Muslim former employee, fired for wearing the hijab headscarf at work." But the identity of the players has already been leaked: the Walt Disney Co. and Imane Boudlal, a former Grand Californian hotel restaurant hostess who was first told to remove her hijab and, when she refused, to wear a hat over it.

Boudlal, who is not identified in an announcement embargoed until the press conference begins in downtown Los Angeles, "faced increasing levels of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim harassment" during her two years on the job, "culminating with her dismissal in 2010 when she began wearing the hijab," according to the ACLU.

The way Boudlal preferred to look on the job and an alternative proposed by Disney management was released at the time by the worker's labor union:

[UPDATED with Park Reaction, 5 Boudlal v. Disney Surprises:] Imane Boudlal, Who Clashed with Disney over Wearing Hijab on Job, Sues
Courtesy of UNITE HERE Local 11

Here is some of our previous coverage of the case:

Disneyland Prohibits Muslim Worker from Wearing Hijab on the Job, Suit Claims

Muslim Woman and Her Support Team Allege Disneycrimination in Hijab Flap, Suggest Top Brass Ride "It's a Small World"

Imane Boudlal, Muslim Fighting Disney for Right to Wear Hijab: "We Should Just Accept Each Other and Respect Each Other"

Imane Boudlal, Disney Worker Who Sparked Hijab Flap, Rejects New Company Compromise

Imane Boudlal, Battling Disney Over Head Scarf, Suspended Without Pay?

UPDATE, AUG. 14, 12:27 P.M.: Disney spokeswoman Suzy Brown issued the following statement about Imane Boudlal's lawsuit accusing the company of harassment and religious discrimination because she is a North African Arab and a Muslim.

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.

Speaking of statements, the ACLU of Southern California released its own following Monday's press conference in Los Angeles announcing the suit. The five most surprising allegations in Boudlal v. Disney follow on the next page . . .

  • A U.S. citizen born in Morocco, 28-year-old Boudlal claims that from the moment she began working at California Adventure's Storytellers Café in Anaheim in April 2008, "her coworkers and supervisors subjected her to anti-Muslim and anti-Arab slurs, such as 'terrorist,' 'camel' and others.
  • She reported the harassment to her managers, who are claimed to have admitted a problem but never took action.
  • Boudlal did not start wearing her hijab in all public settings outside of work until 2009 and then decided a year later to seek permission to wear it while working in the case "to be true to her core beliefs." That request was denied for violating Disney's "look" policy two months later, according to the complaint.
  • Part of her complaint deals with the "loose" way Disney is said to have enforced the "look" policy. She claims several employees sported tattoos, jewelry or hairstyles in violation of the stated policy and that managers allowed Christians to work with marked foreheads on Ash Wednesday.
  • She says she reacted to the initial rejection by seeking permission to wear a scarf in colors matching her uniform or with a Disney logo and claims she was then offered the choice of either working in a back area away from customers or of wearing a large fedora-type hat on top of her hijab. 

Boudlal claims she was fired after refusing either choice. Disney has previously said she was briefly taken off the work schedule and, when she failed to return to the job, suspended.

This quote is attributed to Boudlal in the ACLU statement:

"Disneyland calls itself the happiest place on earth, but I faced harassment as soon as I started working there. It only got worse when I decided to wear a hijab. 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."

Besides unspecified punitive damages, the suit seeks a permanent injunction requiring Disney not to prohibit employees from wearing hijabs and anti-harassment training for company employees that includes Muslim issues.

"Had Imane been Princess Jasmine, a cartoon Muslim, Disney would not only have permitted her to wear a hijab, they would have exploited it," charges Mark Rosenbaum, chief counsel for the ACLU of Southern California, in the release. "The film Aladdin grossed over 200 million dollars in 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. This is not Mickey Mouse bigotry; it is cold and calculating religious intolerance unacceptable according to our laws and most cherished values."

Animated characters having more civil rights than Disney cast members was likened by Anne Richardson, a Hadsell Stormer partner, as "modern day Jim Crow."

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