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Muslim Disney worker claims discrimination

August 18, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Imane Boudlal, surrounded by supporters, left work 15 minutes after her shift started Wednesday.For a fourth day, the 26 year old who works as a host at a restaurant at Disneyland's Grand Californian Hotel & Spa went home without pay.

At issue is her hijab, a head scarf, which is a symbol of her Muslim faith.

"I said, what's the reason?" Boudlal said. "They said it's because of the Disney look. You're not in compliance with the Disney policy."

Boudlal, who became a U.S. citizen in June, has worked at Disneyland for more than two years.

A few months ago, she said she wanted to start wearing her headscarf to work and sent a letter asking Disney for accommodation based on her religious beliefs.

"Instead of granting this simple request, Disney dragged its feet forcing Imane to take her scarf off when arriving at work," said Ameena Qazi, a staff attorney at the Council on American Islamic Relations.

But Disneyland officials said they've been working with Boudlal on accommodations.

"We offered reasonable accommodations to allow her to work during her scheduled shifts, which she declined," Disney officials said in a statement. They did not give specifics of those accommodations.

"They said, these are your options: either work in the back or go home," Boudlal said. "I don't want to be in the back. I'm a human being, I have feelings. Don't put me in the back."

In a statement, Disneyland said the incident is part of an ongoing dispute with the restaurant workers union.

"The Company values diversity and has a long-standing policy against discrimination of any kind. Unfortunately, this is yet another attempt by Local 11 to distort the facts and distract from the real issue that their members have been without a contract for two and a half years," the statement said.

Boudlal has filed a discrimination complaint against Disney with the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission.

"We're talking about the 2,100 workers and whether they have the right to their religion," said Ada Briceno of UNITE HERE Local 11. "If I wear a cross, why can't she wear her hijab?"

Boudlal said she simply wants to wear her head covering without controversy.

"I'm not here to scare anybody," she said. "I'm here to wear my head scarf and work and keep my job."

For now, she said she'll continue to show up for work wearing her head scarf. She said she hopes Disney will allow her to work as a hostess greeting customers.

Disney is the parent company of ABC7.

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