Muslim Head Scarf Prompts Disney Employee Suit

May 25, 2004 ( - A female employee has sued Walt Disney World for allegedly firing her for not removing her hijab - a Muslim head scarf.

Aicha Baha claimed, in her suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Orlando, that her dismissal as a bellhop and a sales clerk at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort violated her federally protected civil rights, the Orlando Sentinel reported.“To stop you from working for practicing your religion doesn’t seem right to me,” the Morocco-born Baha told the Sentinel. “There is a family here that is almost out on the street because of Disney.”

hijab is a head scarf that some Muslim women choose to wear as a sign of modesty. Disney policy prohibits the wearing of anything but Disney-issued hats and visors. “We don’t discriminate,” Disney spokeswoman Veronica Clemons told the Sentinel, saying exceptions to the dress code for religious reasons are made on a case-by-case basis. “We do have cast members who have attire significant to their religions.”

According to the Sentinel, Baha, 32, worked at Walt Disney World from 1997 until mid-August 2002 and wore uniforms, referred to as “costumes,” in her jobs. She did not wear the hijab during that time. But when she took maternity leave in 2002, her faith grew and she decided to wear the hijab when she returned to work in August. “It wasn’t something just for fun,” she said. “It’s like God is asking you to do it.” So, when Baha returned to her two jobs, she wore the scarf.

Baha claimed her supervisors told her she couldn’t continue working with the head scarf. Disney offered to accommodate her religious attire with a “backstage” job out of the public view, the lawsuit states.

“Plaintiff refused to work without her religious scarf as it is part of her religious beliefs and refused to be humiliated and downgraded by accepting the less favorable position in the backstage,” the lawsuit states. “She was therefore terminated.”

Apart from Baha’s case, Arab-American groups say discrimination against Muslim women wearing hijabs has soared around the country since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Just this week, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it had compelled an Oklahoma school district to permit its female students to wear hijabs in class.

“What is a surprise in this particular case, if these allegations are indeed true, are Walt Disney’s response to them,” said Rabiah Ahmed, a spokeswoman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington, D.C. “It being such a huge corporation, you would think they would be more sensitive to its employees’ needs and diversity.”