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Mickey Mouse, Religious Freedom and Dress Codes by Elizabeth Martinez

Article Author Biography
Mickey Mouse, Religious Freedom and Dress Codes by
Article Posted: 10/11/2010
Article Views: 64
Articles Written: 183
Word Count: 547
Article Votes: 0
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Mickey Mouse, Religious Freedom and Dress Codes

The Walt Disney Company has found itself facing yet another lawsuit. This time, the plaintiff, Imane Boudlal is claiming religious discrimination because the entertainment mecca will now allow her to wear her traditional Muslim clothing, including her head scarf. The suit, filed with the Equal Opportunity Commission, has Disney defending its stance of mandatory costumes. It says it will fight this suit. A. Harrison Barnes, lawyer and founder, says Disney attempted to provide a compromise more than two years ago when its costume designers created a hijab that would allow her to remain compliant with her faith but that would also work with her Disney costume.

Instead, Boudlal showed up to work many times in her own choice of hijab, or head scarf, only to be sent home. When the suit was filed in August, the company decided to fight it. Disney lawyers are confident they will be able to successfully defend the “Disney Look”, which requires employees to wear very specific clothing, including their accessories, while on the clock.

Part of this confidence by Disney’s Legal Team, says the founder, is the successful litigation several years ago that involved Costco Corporation. A former employee sued when the company told her that her multiple piercings violated the company’s guidelines. She refused to leave the jewelry at home and claimed religious freedom. Eventually, the courts ruled in Costco’s favor; however, it was a very time consuming trial that cost millions of dollars.

The wrinkle in this particular case with the plaintiff is the two years she worked with no problems at all, says A. Harrison Barnes. It wasn’t until she decided to stand her ground and recommit herself to her faith that the problems surfaced. She said she had an “awakening”. While that’s certainly possible, many legal experts, including Barnes, say the costumes are a part of the Disney heritage. It’s what makes Walt Disney, well…Walt Disney.

One Florida lawyer said, “I can’t see how Disney could have been clearer in articulating its requirements for employee costuming over many years…”. It’s true, especially when one considers Option Number 2 that Boudlal passed on. She was offered a position backstage that wouldn’t require her coming into direct contact with the customers (any Disney employee who has contact, even the smallest bit, with the customers, must be in complete costume at all times). This position would have allowed her to dress any way she chose, within reason.

There’s a good chance, according to many legal minds, that Disney will be victorious. After all, it attempted to work with the employee on more than one occasion and in fact, offered two solutions, neither of which was acceptable to this employee. Perhaps it’s time employers were allowed to run their businesses the way they see fit. If one of the job requirements includes a costume or uniform, an employee certainly doesn’t have to comply – but if she chooses to keep her job, then it’s part of the deal. After all, Disney also requires its employees to not engage in consuming a glass of wine on their lunch break. Doing so results in termination – it’s a violation of company policy. This one is a no brainer for many, but ultimately, the courts will be deciding that outcome.

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