Disney World sued over Dress Code/Religious Discrimination

I am going to make a blanket statement about the scheduling practices of Walt Disney World resort and parks. I know there are exceptions to this, but overall this appears to be their default practice. Disney World does not discriminate against religions when hiring or scheduling. In fact they don’t care about your religion at all. All they want to know is that when you’re scheduled for a shift you show up or you get someone to cover it for you. If you are scheduled to work on a Saturday, but you don’t work on the Sabbath, it’s your responsibility to find coverage or you can be penalized and eventually fired for missing work.

If you’re lucky you’ll get a manager who never schedules you for days you can’t work, but if that manager is transfered you’re likely on your own. You get the picture. In this way, Disney can’t be said to be discriminating based on religion, since they don’t take it into account at all. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, that’s just the way it is.

Now there is a lawsuit that claims Disney is discriminating against one religion based on the famous ‘Disney Look’.

A Broward County resident has sued Walt Disney World, claiming he was discriminated against because his religion prevents him from conforming to the Disney dress code.

Miami Attorney Matt Sarelson filed the suit in Hillsborough County Circuit Court on behalf of Sukhbir Channa. Channa, 24, is a practicing Sikh who wears a turban, a beard and keeps his hair long in accordance with his religious beliefs.

In his suit, Channa says he was hired in October 2005 as a seasonal college musician, which requires parade and atmospheric performances. At the time, he was a student University of South Florida. In his parade performances, Channa says he wore a toy soldier hat to cover his head. In the atmospheric performances, he was initially allowed to wear a red turban in place of the red beret the other musicians wore. However, even after rehearsing for both jobs, the lawsuit claims Channa was removed from the atmospheric position because he lacked the “Disney look.”

I’m wondering if Disney’s defense in this case will be the same as for scheduling. Disney calls its on-stage employees “cast members” and expects them to play a themed role in addition to what ever tasks their position requires. For a long time Disney prohibited facial hair, heavy makeup, and more using these standards. But now that hiring and retaining new employees is more difficult, Disney has been forced to relax these standards. That might give the plaintiff an opening in this case.

I sense there is more to this story that may come out in court. Either way, it’s a case to keep an eye on. (Read)