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Disney faces discrimination lawsuit from Muslim former employee

It is hard to think of Florida without also thinking of Disney. Walt Disney World is not only responsible for generating considerable tourism revenue, it is a vacation destination for families in Florida and around the world.

While Disney works hard to promote an image of inclusiveness and a "small world" message, a former restaurant employee at Disneyland in California questions the company's racial and religious sensitivity. Earlier this month, the 28-year-old woman filed a lawsuit alleging that she was fired for seeking permission to wear a traditional Muslim headscarf with her uniform, and claiming that Disney is liable for the religious discrimination and harassment she suffered.

In a public statement, the woman said: "Disneyland calls itself the happiest place on earth, but I faced harassment as soon as I started working there. It only got worse when I decided to wear a hijab."

The woman's complaint states that she worked at the restaurant for two years. During that time, she claims she faced harassing remarks from both coworkers and supervisors, including being called a "camel" and a "terrorist. She says management did not respond to her reports of these incidents.

When she asked to wear a hijab that matched her uniform, she says her request was denied because it would have violated the company's dress code, which is unique given that many employees are also playing costumed character roles.

Disney responded to the complaint by saying that managers attempted to work with the employee to accommodate her request. They reportedly offered her four different jobs that would allow her to wear a hijab, as well as several alternative costuming options.

Both parties offer different explanations as to how the woman's employment came to an end. She alleges that she was fired for refusing alternative costuming and work assignments. Disney claims that after refusing the alternative options, the employee eventually stopped coming to work.

It is difficult to sort out the details in cases where it is the former employee's word against the company's. Like most major corporations, Disney will likely have some documentation defending against religious discrimination allegations. But failure to respond to complaints of employee harassment is also a serious charge that may be more difficult to explain away.

Source: Thomson Reuters News & Insight, "Ex-worker sues Disney, says company forbids Muslim head scarf," Lisa Richrine, Aug. 13, 2012

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