Muslim employee sues Disneyland over hijab ban

Offered "backstage" position for wearing headscarf

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A Muslim woman is suing Disneyland, accusing the company's California theme park of discrimination for telling her she could not serve customers if she chose to wear a headscarf.

Iman Boudlal, 26, asked her employers at Disneyland's Grand Californian Hotel several months ago 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 told Boudlal that if she wanted to work as a hostess she had to remove her 'hijab' because it did not comply with the 'Disney Look,'" Shelton said in a statement.

"Disney further advised Boudlal that if she refused to remove her 'hijab', she could either work a back-of-the-house position where any customers would not see her, or else 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."

Boudlal refused the compromise and is now bringing Disney before the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission, a federal agency that handles claims of workplace discrimination.

"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."

The local branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, an advocacy group, said it had sent a letter to Disney demanding that the firm accommodate Boudlal.

"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.

Their offer to put me in the back is humiliating. 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

Iman Boudlal