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Do You Have the Right to Wear a Hijab When Your Work Includes Wearing a Costume?

August 19, 2010

A Disney employee who refused to remove her hijab during Ramadan when she was supposed to be wearing a costume, or keep her hijab on and work back-stage, has filed a complaint against Disney.  She says that after studying for her citizenry exam, she “realized” she had a right to wear her hijab, even though it wasn’t approved as part of her job:

Imane Boudlal, 26, appeared outside the resort’s Grand Californian Hotel after filing a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

She said when she wore the hijab to work Sunday, her supervisors told her to remove it, work where customers couldn’t see her, or go home.

Boudlal, who wore the scarf in observance of Ramadan, chose to go home but reported to work for the next two days and was told the same thing.

“Miss Boudlal has effectively understood that they’re not interested in accommodating her request either in timing or good faith,” said Ameena Qazi, an attorney from the Council on American-Islamic Relations who is consulting with Boudlal.

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, who is a native of Morocco, has worked at the Storyteller restaurant at the hotel for 2 1/2 years but only realized she could wear her hijab to work after studying for her U.S. citizenship exam in June, Qazi said.

She asked her supervisors if she could wear the scarf and was told they would consult with the corporate office, Qazi said. Boudlal didn’t hear anything for two months and was then told she could wear a head scarf, but it had to be designed by Disneyland’s costume department to comply with the Disney look, Qazi said.

She was fitted for a Disney-supplied head scarf but was not given a date when the garment would be finished and was told she couldn’t wear her own hijab in the interim.

Boudlal wore her own hijab to work for the first time Sunday.

What happens when wearing a costume is part of the actual job itself?  Can any employee choose his or her own head covering and designate their own look based on a religious belief?  I predict that this is going to negatively impact the hiring of any women who wear a hijab in a costume related industry.  While this woman may win this particular round in the court, she has simply created a situation that now alerted all other employers to the fact that rather than appear in the costume she was hired to wear, she will file a discrimination claim.  It just creates one more barrier for prospective employers, and it is one situation in which pushing the envelope will definitely backfire in hiring.

Some critics claim that this filing is merely a result of a labor dispute, the woman’s union is already in a fight with Disney, and this is the latest foray.

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