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Hold the hijab

Minnie Mouse doesn’t wear a hijab, at least not in Anaheim, and Mickey goes without a yarmulke. On these points, most people would agree: When a job requires a specific costume or uniform, it is the employer’s prerogative to determine what accessories are appropriate.

For less exotic jobs, the rules become less clear. We could certainly sympathize with Disneyland if it prohibited turbans on the workers who buckle visitors into the Matterhorn ride, lest the headgear ruin the faux-Tyrolean atmosphere. Disneyland is famously attentive to every detail — from the decorations along its ride queues to employees’ jewelry — that might diminish the carefully crafted sense of leaving the real world behind.

Now a young Muslim woman has filed an equal-opportunity complaint against the Disney Resort in Anaheim because she was not allowed to wear her hijab as a restaurant hostess in a Disney hotel. The company reportedly told her she could work “backstage” (only a Disney restaurant would have a backstage) wearing her hijab, or she could remove it. When she refused to do either, she says, she was sent home without pay.

At many restaurants, the rules are somewhat loose about a hostess’ garb. They might simply require modest attire, in which case a hijab could be perfectly appropriate, or they might mandate immodest attire. In the case of the latter, would a woman whose religious beliefs call for covering her legs be allowed to wear a long skirt to work? The answer would be no.

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Imane Boudlal works at the Storyteller’s Cafe, which has a Chip ‘n’ Dale theme. Costumed characters visit the tables, and the hostesses wear camp pants and orange vests. The resort tries to accommodate religious traditions to the extent that they can be fitted in with the various themes. For example, Boudlal was allowed to wear a blouse with a higher neckline, and Disney offered to provide headgear that would cover her hair and neck. (The offer was rejected, a spokeswoman said.) But among the requirements for employees or “cast members” who meet the public is that they refrain from wearing religious items. Employees sign off on this when they are hired.

Ordinarily, a head scarf would not keep a hostess from performing her duties. If Disney barred Boudlal from wearing her hijab simply because they feared customers might react badly, in contrast to how it might view a ring embossed with a star of David or a pendant in the shape of a cross, her complaint would be valid. But because the company has long enforced dress policies as part of its business strategy, and applies them evenly to its employees, Boudlal would be better off looking for a job where her religious convictions can be more easily accommodated.


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