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Abdallah, Boudlal, discrimination, Disney, hijab, Imane, Islam, lawsuit, Muslim, Noor, religion, religious

The Muslim and the Mouse

A couple of months ago, I wrote a paper detailing the dispute between Imane Boudlal and Disney.  Ms. Boudlal is a Muslim woman who filed a dispute with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Disney.  She filed the complaint because she was told she could not wear her hijab while working as a server at a Disney restaurant.  I actually wrote the paper because I have a very high opinion of Disney.  I have done a lot of research about the company.  I wanted to research something that could be potentially negative against Disney.  On the surface, I would support Ms. Boudlal because I firmly believe in diversity in the workplace and I’m firmly against any form of discrimination.  I thought it would help to keep my opinion of the company grounded.  Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.  Now Ms. Boudlal is filing a lawsuit against Disney for the same situation.  
To help you better understand the situation, here is some of the information I uncovered about the dispute:
A Muslim employee, Imane Boudlal, filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claiming that Disney was guilty of violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibiting discrimination in the workplace based on a person’s religious beliefs or practices because the company would not allow her to wear her hijab while on the job….
At face value, it may seem that this is a simple issue.  The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination against employees based on religious beliefs or practices.  According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, this protection extends to “such things as dress or grooming practices that an employee has for religious reasons.”  If this was this the only relevant information, there wouldn’t be a dilemma.  However, there is information that is much more pertinent.   
The law allows exceptions to the accommodation required by companies.  If the accommodation is found to cause “undue hardship” on the company, the company can refuse.  One firmly held belief that is a core foundation of Disney culture is the distinction between customer facing (onstage) and behind-the-scenes (backstage) positions.  Employees onstage are required to meet very strict guidelines in regards to dress and conduct.  These guidelines include only wearing costumes appropriate to each individual area.  Disney believes that each area of their parks, restaurants, and hotels tells an individual story.  The setting of the story is unique to the location and should include every detail.  This includes everything from the design of the structures to the costumes of the employees (or cast members as Disney calls them) down to the texture of the floors and walkways.  This attention to detail is an integral part of the culture that Disney works very hard to create.  Having a cast member wear a costume that does not fit with the setting of the work environment would detract from the experience that Disney has spent millions of dollars to create.
Another important fact in this case is that Ms. Boudlal was an employee of Disney for two years before the issue with her hijab.  As an employee of Disney, she was informed of the costume standards pertaining to all onstage employees.  Even though she was hired as a server, not an actor, the company standards still applied, and were communicated, to her.  For two years she wore a hijab on her personal time, but removed it at work.  When she requested that she be allowed to wear her hijab while at work she was informed that her hijab did not fit the turn of the century theme of the restaurant at which she worked.
In an effort to resolve the issue to the satisfaction of all parties, Disney offered Ms. Boudlal alternative options.  Due to the strict guidelines required by the design of their parks, they could not allow her to wear her traditional hijab.  Instead, the company offered alternatives including moving Ms. Boudlal to a backstage position that would allow her to wear her hijab and several different costume options that would accommodate her religious beliefs while maintaining the standards of Disney’s costume guidelines. 
Any of these options would have allowed Ms. Boudlal to practice her religious beliefs while maintaining Disney’s standards and the customer experience.  Ms. Boudlal rejected these options.  She refused to move to a backstage position stating that she would “feel humiliated.”  She also rejected all of the alternative costume options presented to her.  She claimed that the options were ridiculous and made a joke of her religion.
Still with me?  That was kind of dry, wasn’t it?  Hey, it was an analysis, not a blog.  Based on that information, and the concepts I applied, I determined that Disney actually attempted to accommodate Ms. Boudlal without making an undue sacrifice to the experience that they work very hard to maintain. 
Like I said earlier, I’m all for diversity.  But Disney made multiple attempts to accommodate Ms. Boudlal.  The fact is that the options they gave her would have allowed her to practice her faith and uphold the costume guidelines of the company.  She chose not to accept those options.  
One of the options offered to Imane Boudlal
Disney spends a fortune creating an experience.  They followed the law by making reasonable accommodations for her.  She simply chose not to accept them.  Similar accommodations were made for another Muslim woman who had a similar issue at Disney.  Noor Abdallah was given very similar options for her hijab.  She accepted the alternatives, as have hundreds of other employees at Disney over the years.  In my opinion, Ms. Boudlal is attempting to create an issue where there is none.  She is attempting to use the courts to force Disney into making unreasonable accommodations.  Or perhaps she is simply trying to make some money.  
Noor Abdallah wearing an alternative hijab designed by Disney
There is one more issue that has been brought up in the discussion of the lawsuit.  Ms. Boudlal is claiming that she was harassed by other employees during her time at Disney.  She claims that she was called names like “terrorist,” “camel,” and “Kunta Kinte.”  Well let’s start with the fact that the last name is completely stupid.  Whoever called her that should be fired for being too dumb to properly harass another employee.   Ms. Boudlal claims that she informed her managers both verbally and in writing about the situation to no avail.  If this is true, then Disney does have some liability for the harassment.  They should also do an investigation into which managers and employees were involved and terminate them immediately.  The only problem I have with this is that this harassment was supposedly going on during her entire two and a half career, but it doesn’t get brought up until she decides to file suit.  
I blog and argue very passionately for people who are the victims of discrimination.  I don’t believe that our society has any place for it.  That’s why is bothers me when I believe that someone uses this issue as a pulpit for their cause or to make some money.  There are people who are real victims of discrimination.  It diminishes the plight of these people to do something like this. 
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Discussion

2 thoughts on “The Muslim and the Mouse

  1. Very interesting points made. I worked at Disneyland, and I read the ACLU's case against Disney. One of the things they mentioned was that Disney informed the lawyers that they were trying to keep with the 19th century feel of the restaurant, with which they countered that if this were the case, then all female cast members would have to wear skirts. Disney will adhere to the "Guest Experience" only to a certain extent, if it is in clear violation of safety standards. For example, I was a CM in the stores of the park, and although skirts of the 18th (New Orleans Square) and 19th Century (Main Street) would have been down to the floor, or "hobble skirts," we were required to have skirts that hit at mid calf. This was a safety measure, in order to create a safe work environment. The small points the lawyers make tend to be invalidated, and in light of the Noor Abdallah hijab issue, I can only see the case being thrown out or greatly reduced. Of course, this is not to discount the fact that her coworkers were quite possibly offensive. If they were indeed, then of course they should be prosecuted. I am doubtful about the Kunta Kinte aspect of the lawsuit, as well. Well, as they say, "the truth will out!" Apologies for the essay, but I just had to weigh in. Have a Disney Day!

    Posted by emilyash79 | December 3, 2012, 3:11 am
  2. Thank you! It's always great to get the perspective of someone who has been involved in the company. Based on your experience it sounds like Disney has no problem making accomodations to protect the safety of the employees. That's great to hear. I agree that this case will either be settled for much less than Ms. Boudlal wants or Disney will prevail. Don't worry about the long response. I love hearing other people's thoughts. That's why I do this. Thank you for reading my blog, and I hope you come back often!

    Posted by Dean Spencer | December 3, 2012, 6:31 pm

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