Recently, Orange County’s biggest private employer has been in the spotlight over a suit filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by Imane Boudlal, a restaurant hostess working at Disneyland citing religious discrimination. Boudlal, who has worked at Disneyland for the past two years, recently obtained her U.S. citizenship, and began wearing a hijab last week to work. She was asked to remove the headscarf or work in another job at Disneyland. She refused and went home.
Every business has the right to create guidelines, policies and regulations to better serve its customers, in addition to better protecting themselves. Companies like Disney work hard to ensure their products and services continuously meet certain standards, meet their mission and the brand that generations have grown to love over the last 55 years.
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The bottom line is simple: not only were legitimate dress rules in place when she applied for her job, but she agreed to them and signed on the dotted line to abide by them as a condition of her employment. Disneyland is known internationally for its culture: park patrons are "guests;" Disneyland is "the show;" employees are "cast members" who wear "costumes," not uniforms; they are "on stage" when working with the public. "The Disney Look" – a branded, clean-cut image, synonymous with the Mouse himself – is given to prospective cast members in a pamphlet that is agreed to by the employee as work begins. So why, after two years of working without a hijab, and without a previous request for accommodation, does Boudlal decide unilaterally that she did not want to keep her agreement with her employer?
Disneyland, to its credit, tried to accommodate her with appropriate head wear consistent with her new religious practices. She was insulted. Disney offered her several "backstage" job opportunities where she could wear the hijab, jobs comparable to her "onstage" job. She refused via her union representative.
Clearly, this is not discrimination against Boudlal in particular, or the Muslim community in general – it is one business’ decision to set forth guidelines that deter ANY religious clothing or symbols worn in plain sight of a guest that may alter his experience of its brand and services that make up "the show."
So what are the real issues here? Another union dispute masquerading as religious freedom? A publicity stunt? A play for settlement money through litigation? "The Constitution tells me I can be Muslim, and I can wear the headscarf," Boudlal said. "Who is Disney to tell me I cannot?" I recall another old-timer saying, "In America, you can do anything you want, you just can’t do everything." You can work at Disney "onstage" in a specific costume, or you can work at Disney wearing your head scarf, but you can’t do both.
With 12.3 percent unemployment in California – really more like 20 percent if the underemployed and those who have just given up are included – Hijab-gate is just another example of a dysfunctional culture that caters to litigation and protection of "my rights" but no duty to "my responsibilities."
There are hundreds of thousands of Californians out of a job, any one of which might like the opportunity new citizen Boudlal has enjoyed.