Muslim worker in Disneyland hotel files discrimination claim

NYHTC — October 20, 2010

Both the New York Times and recently carried pieces discussing the dramatic increase in the number of workplace discrimination cases filed by Muslim workers. In examining this development, both made specific reference to California hotel worker Imane Boudlal's dispute with the management of her Disneyland hotel.

As reported in an Associated Press story carried in, Ms. Boudlal lodged a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on August 18, 2010, after her employer would not permit her to wear her hijab in front of customers. Ms Boudlal is a union member and has the support of her union, UNITE HERE Local 11.

According to her attorney, she had asked her supervisors if she could wear her hijab on the job. Told they would consult corporate, she waited for two months, during which she did not wear it.

When then told she could wear one but it would have to be designed by Disney, she was given no date by which the Disneyland creation would be completed. At that point, she wore her own head scarf, and was reportedly told to remove it, work where she would not be seen by customers, or go home.

A spokeswoman for Disneyland said it was trying to find a way to enable Ms. Boudlal to "cover her head in a way that fits in with her hostess uniform" and had offered to let her wear her own head scarf "away from customers" while a compromise arrangement involving her wearing something designed by Disneyland could be worked out.

A blog article in the OC Weekly subsequently reported Ms. Boudlal's union has asserted she has been suspended without pay but that a Disney Resort spokeswoman immediately contacted the OC Weekly to deny this and "reiterate that no disciplinary action against [her] had been meted out by the company." The spokeswoman also reportedly stated that Ms. Boudlal "was simply removed from the work schedule."

Lawyer Ameena Qazi, who is representing Ms. Boudlal, presented an account of Ms. Boudlal's efforts to be permitted to wear her hajib in her workplace in an article in the Opinion section of the Orange County Register. She discussed Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin and is the statutory basis for Ms. Boudlal's claim that her employer discriminated against her on the basis of her religion.

Federal, state, and city laws do prohibit discrimination of various types, including on the basis of one's religion, but workers who feel they have been discriminated against by an employer often face an uphill battle in trying to assert their rights under these laws. Finding a lawyer to take an employment discrimination case can be exceedingly difficult, the costs of litigation can be prohibitive, discrimination cases can go on for years, and the remedy obtained by the worker at the conclusion of the case, if any, is too often too little and too late.

Hotel workers represented by the New York Hotel Trades Council are fortunate that their Industry-Wide Agreement has a strong contractual provision protecting them against discrimination or harassment on the bases of race, color, creed, sex, age, national origin, religion, disability, sexual orientation, union activity, and any other factor illegal under federal, state, or city law. Equally important, the NYHTC contract enables employees who work in bargaining unit positions in union hotels to be represented at no cost to them by a lawyer provided by the union, and to have their claims of discrimination heard and decided in a timely fashion by an experienced arbitrator.

Greenhouse, Steven. Muslims Say They Face More Discrimination at Work. New York Times. September 23, 2010.

Tahmincloglu, Eve. Muslims face growing bias in the workplace. September 13, 2010.

Qazi, Ameena Mirza. Opinion: Disney violated Boudlal's religious rights. Orange County Register. August 27, 2010.

Coker, Matt. Imane Boudlal, Battling Disney Over Head Scarf, Suspended Without Pay?. OC Weekly. August 26, 2010.