Not Such a Small World, After All: Disney’s Latest Discrimination

In the latest hijab shake-down, Imane Boudlal was taken off the schedule as a hostess at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel because she insisted upon her right to wear hijab to work.

Boudlal, a Moroccan-born Muslim woman, already wore the hijab at home, but said that she learned of her Constitutional right to wear it to work while studying for her U.S. citizenship exam a few months ago. In accordance with Disney’s notoriously stringent employee agreement, Boudlal asked her manager in June whether an exception could be made for her religious expression. Her manager said the request would have to be approved by Disney corporate, which had Boudlal fitted after some time for a Disney-approved headscarf. When she followed up two months later, the hijab was still not ready, and she received no further word from corporate. The hostess of two years then decided to wear her hijab to work—a hijab that, it should be noted, is the same color as the Disney uniform at the café and is remarkably discreet—at the beginning of this year’s Ramadan, and was promptly removed from the work schedule.

Suzi Brown, a Disney spokeswoman, said that the company was making every effort to accommodate Boudlal. These efforts included offers to work “backstage,” operating phones or working in a bakery for the same pay as Boudlal’s hostess position, and to wear a poorly fashioned bonnet-and-hat creation that ostensibly works better with “the Disney look,” as it’s called. Boudlal has said that she is willing to accept a “simple and decent” Disney alternative to her hijab, but that she won’t be pushed into a back room. On August 18th, she filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Her case has been picked up by both the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the 2,100-person local hotel union, UNITE HERE.

Disney has proven disobliging in the past, but it recently relaxed its antediluvian dress code (so we at least know that “the Disney look” can move, if only 50 or so years behind the times). Interestingly, the company had a nearly identical problem in 2004, when Aicha Baha was fired from a Disney position in Florida for refusing to remove her hijab at work. That case, however, was settled out of court almost a year later.

That Disney is making few concessions in the current case with Boudlal, despite her substantial backing by both the union and CAIR, could very well be reflective of the current national climate. Far from discussing religious freedom as a larger and ongoing issue with private companies, comment boards online are teeming with xenophobic and Islamophobic rhetoric, placing Boudlal’s struggle within a long line of incidents that portend the “Islamization of America.”

Given the three-month frenzy of anti-Muslim media and the politicization of Park51, Disney corporate truly couldn’t pick a better time to fight a long battle with a Muslim woman over her hijab—which is sad for its religious employees, of course, but also for its larger image as representative of the diverse American cultural landscape.

  • http://N/A Mimi Leland

    As a first generation American, I can sympathize with folks who have different traditions, religions, and ways of life. The adjustment can be a nightmare at times.

    I must be honest with you, however, when I say the objective is to become Americanized and NOT Islamitized, Hinduized, etc. This is America. Respect our culture, and as difficult as it may seem right now, in time, we will respect yours. America, love it or leave it!

    • Fatemeh

      @ Mimi: You talk like Islam is a new thing in America. Like Islam hasn’t been part of America’s fabric for CENTURIES. Like Muslim Americans have to change who they are to be American. None of these are true, and that kind of thinking isn’t accepted here.

  • Pam Ellis

    I worked at Disneyland for three years. Everyone KNOWS when they are hired that their appearance while “on stage” is regulated by Disney. You won’t see people wearing yarmulkes, side curls, religious jewelry, etc while in stage. There is more laxity for people working backstage, as they are not seen by the guests.
    Some religions require men to wear beards. You will see no facial hair at Disney parks either. Either onstage or backstage. Should Disney be forced to hire them as well? Men have to have their hair cut in such a way that it does not touch their ears or collars. And again, everyone knows this when they are hired. And Imane knew this as well. She worked there for years before decided she had to wear the hijab. If she worked at Hooters and then decided after a few years that she would not wear their costume (For the record, I do not like Hooters and would never eat there), should Hooters be required to have her remain as a waitress? Hooter’s customers do not go their to see modesty dressed women.
    It is the same thing for Disneyland. They project a certain image, and have offered Imane alternatives (working backstage…which I did. And I would work backstage over onstage any day of the week)

    Imane also worked in a restaurant that serves alcohol and pork products. What is she or another muslims decided to not serve those items? Would Disney have any recourse with that as well?

    If this goes through, companies like Disney will be less likely to hire people that are muslim in the future…they will give other reasons…but it will occur.


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