Employment News

Employment Discrimination in Dress Codes and Appearance Standards

Aug 16, 2012

A former Disneyland employee has received a “notice of right-to-sue” from the EEOC and is reported to be in the process of filing suit for being subjected to a hostile work environment and being wrongfully terminated from her position.  The case stems from the employee’s refusal to remove her hijab, cover it with a hat or otherwise transfer to a position out of public view.  The plaintiff, Imane Boudlal, claims to have been subjected to repeated harassment from her co-workers and was called a “terrorist,” “camel” and “Kunta Kinte.”  Former Disney employees have brought suit under similar circumstances in at least two other cases – a 2010 case involving the hijab of a Muslim intern and another case in 2008 involving a Sikh musician wearing a turban.  All of these cases demonstrate the conflict between an employer’s desire to maintain a certain “look” for their brand and the employee’s right to not be discriminated against based on their religion and appearance. 

Generally, an employer is free to adopt and enforce workplace rules governing appearance as long as those rules apply even-handedly to employees of different races, religions, sexual orientation and gender.  In the case of religion, an employer may not discriminate against an employee because of her appearance when appearance is the result of a sincerely held religious belief.  An employer must also reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs by relaxing the application of its appearance rules for that employee unless doing so would cause the employer undue hardship.  Determining whether an employer’s actions are lawful in these types of discrimination cases most often requires a fact-intensive inquiry and analysis by an employment lawyer.  If you are experiencing harassment based on your appearance or religious beliefs, or if you have concerns about whether your employer is fairly applying dress codes, contact one of Baillon Thome’s experienced employment discrimination attorneys.