Tuesday, August 14, 2012

It Isn't Always Discrimination, You Know

Imane Bloudlal is a lady with a problem.

Firstly, she's a Muslim woman.  I have my own issues with Islam in general and most organized religions' backseating of women, Islam not least among these.  But that's my own prejudicial bone firing up, and that's all I'm going to let be heard from that.  No, do not try to correct me.  I won't listen.  I won't listen, because I will not agree with you.

No, her main problem is that she's committed to her faith - that's a good thing, regardless of how I feel about the faith itself - and not shy about wearing that commitment literally, in the form of the hijab.  Also a good thing.  I used to wear a cross around my neck.  My brother gave me grief about it.  He moved away, I moved away, and I still have the cross.

Ms. Bloudlal says that once she started wearing the hijab, she started receiving harassment from coworkers at Disney's Grand California Hotel & Spa Storyteller Cafe.  She reported the harassment both verbally and in writing to her bosses, who subsequently did nothing.

And then, evidently, she was let go.  According to her complaint, she was ostensibly dismissed for refusing to remove her head scarf.

Digging a little deeper, we find that Ms. Bloudlal was offered some alternatives when she insisted on wearing the headscarf, even though she had not yet received corporate permission to do so.  And here's the important statement: the question of whether she would be allowed to wear the scarf was being discussed.

Disney is a gigantic corporation whose image is a large portion of its stock in trade.  You better believe the question was being discussed.  And even with the question unresolved, the young lady's immediate supervisor gave her some alternatives: cover the hijab with a hat, wear a scarf with a Disney theme, or take a position that isn't in the public eye, at least until the issue could be further and more concretely resolved.  Ms. Bloudlal found none of these acceptable, and was dismissed.

Not fired.  "Dismissed."  California is an at-will state, where either party can discontinue the employer-employee relationship at any time for any reason, up to and including no reason.  With an issue unresolved but under discussion, and what seem to me to be reasonable alternatives while the resolution was sought offered, Ms. Bloudlal refused to continue working without going her own way.  And when you're a huge image conscious company like Disney, it isn't the employee's way that matters.  Thank you for all your hard work, your paycheck will be mailed to you.

So what does Ms. Bloudlal do?  Let me point out that though she was born in Morocco, she has since become a naturalized American citizen and has picked up on how things are done in America: she sued!

I don't think her case has a leg to stand on.  Not as far as the dismissal goes, anyway.  Disney has a "look" section in its employees' handbook, and it lays out what is and is not allowed.  When the supervisor gave her the option of wearing a Disney-themed headscarf until the matter could be further resolved, I think he made all the allowance for her that was required of him, and if she chose not to take it, then that was her choice.  A choice, I might add, that put her at odds with Disney's own employee handbook.  By refusing to follow the letter of the law - the handbook - and the spirit of it too - the supervisor's proferred options - she rejected the company's commitment to its image.  And like I said, with a company like Disney image is everything.

Goodbye, Ms. Bloudlal.  You're done here.  We're sorry you weren't willing to make a step toward compromise.  We tried, you refused, we're done.

Now as to the harassment part of the lawsuit, she might have something there.  If she has written records of the complaints she filed, along with any kind of record of what happened as a result of those complaints, that part of the suit might have some legs.  But as far as discrimination goes, I think she should leave that horse in the barn.

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