We have written much about accommodating employees who are required by their religion to wear certain clothes or other adornments as long as this does not cause an undue hardship to the employer. On April 29, 2012 we discussed the increase in the number of Muslims filing charges and lawsuits alleging employment discrimination on the basis of religion, and noted that some typical workplace-discrimination claims include comments about calling an employee a terrorist, and forbidding women from wearing the traditional head scarf or hijab. In fact, our blog on August 8th dealing with the case of a Muslim employee who was required to wear a headscarf was entitled “When Will Employers Learn The Law Regarding Religious Dress?”
The Hollywood Reporter reports that yet another lawsuit has been filed, this time by a Muslim hotel restaurant hostess at Disneyland who claims to have been fired by Walt Disney Co. after she refused to take off her headscarf, which allegedly “violated Disney’s ‘look’ policy.” The reader may recall a similar “look policy” which Abercrombie & Fitch promulgated to insure a unified "preppy" brand image but which resulted in an adverse jury verdict in favor of a job applicant who was denied hiring when she appeared for an interview wearing a headscarf.
The former Disney employee alleges in her complaint that beginning in the summer of 2008, co-workers and supervisors began to call her a “terrorist,” “camel,” and “Kunta Kinte.” They also “made repeated comments to her that Arabs are terrorists, that she speaks the terrorist language, that she is trained to make bombs, that she gets scanned by security wherever she goes, that she escaped from her family, that people from her country bomb the soccer field when they don’t win games, that she learned how to make bombs at the mosque and that she not kill a co-worker’s boyfriend (“please don’t kill my boyfriend! Terrorist! !“)”
Significantly, she claims that the “look” policy is “not applied at all or consistently at the Storytellers Café. For instance, although the policy prohibits visible tattoos, artificial hair that does not look natural, hair dyeing or highlighting that does not create a uniform look over the whole head, and fingernails that exceed one-fourth of an inch, each of these requirements has been routinely violated by multiple employees of the Café without repercussion. Christian employees observing Ash Wednesday were permitted by Disney to work with a cross of ashes on their foreheads despite the fact that this too facially violates the 'look' policy (emphasis added)."
Walt Disney Co. could not comment on the suit since it had not yet seen the complaint, but stated that “Walt Disney Parks and Resorts has a long history of accommodating a variety of religious requests from cast members of all faiths."
Irrespective of the veracity or merits of this new lawsuit, we want to repeat our previous question: When will employers and/or their trusted HR people and advisors learn the law?