The Separation Between Church and Workplace - Lawsuits Push Retailers

Disney, Walmart, Retailers Forced to Defend Against Discrimination Definitions

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Disney, Walmart, and Other Retailers Forced to Defend Against Expanding Definitions of Discrimination

There are many theories to explain the increasing number of employee lawsuits against employers in the U.S. in 2012. The expansion of protected classes, an ever-expanded definition of "disabled," and easy access to legal representation certainly have contributed to the increase in employee lawsuits. Some say that it's the tight job market that is motivating employees to file lawsuits as an alternative to earning wages. But since the cost of defending against an employee lawsuit is also on the rise, the willingness of many companies to save money with out of court cash settlements is no doubt motivating more employees to play the lawsuit lottery

Recently Walmart settled an ADA claim from a former employee with cerebral palsy, and Hallmark has been defending an ADA claim over denied medical leave. Just this week a group of Dollar Tree Store managers received approval to proceed with a class action lawsuit for unpaid wages for overtime hours, missed breaks, and after-hours bank drops. Burger King is defending a religious discrimination lawsuit from an employee who wants to wear a long skirt instead of pants in her cashier job. Disney is defending a similar religious discrimination lawsuit from an employee who wants to wear a hajib in her restaurant hostess job.

Separation Between Church and Workplace - EEOC and ACLU Lawsuits Push For Religious Expression at Work

Discrimination cases are often filed by the EEOC or the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of the employees they believe have been victims of racial, religious, sexual, and numerous other types of discrimination. In the Disney case, it's easy to see how broadly the ACLU wants discrimination laws interpreted and how extreme and somewhat militant they seem to be in their legal positioning.

Reportedly Mark Rosenbaum, the chief counsel for the Southern California ACLU had this to say about the Disney hajib dispute...

"Had [the defendant] been Princess Jasmine, a cartoon Muslim, Disney would not only have permitted her to wear a hijab, they would have exploited it. The film 'Aladdin' grossed over $200 million in revenues. But Disney's tolerance of religious practices of Muslim women does not extend to real-life women."

Rosenbaum went on to express the opinion that the defendant "would have been acceptable to Disney only were she an animated character. This is not Mickey Mouse bigotry. It is cold and calculating religious intolerance unacceptable according to our laws and most cherished values."

Another ACLU attorney involved in the Disney case, Anne Richardson, said "At Disney, animated characters have more civil rights than the people who work there. This is ​a modern day Jim Crow. Muslims who want to express their religion by wearing a headscarf have to work in the back, out of sight."

The Jim Crow analogy seems more than a little extreme. Whether the reassignment of an hourly worker to another hourly position of equal pay can be validly compared to wholesale systemic racial banishment to inferior conditions is debatable.

Having worked in the Disney organization, it is my personal opinion that one hourly position is not that different from another hourly position. Often the "backstage" jobs are preferable because they almost always include climate control and time off your feet.

That aside, I have experienced firsthand how the "Disney look" creates the "Disney experience," and the Disney experience IS the product that guests are paying for. To force Disney to change its appearance guidelines is to force Disney to change its product. In my personal opinion, if you don't like or agree with a company's product, then you should choose another employer rather than trying to get the company to change its entire business model to suit your personal ideals.

But that's just my opinion, which may or may not be in alignment with the spirit of the U.S. discrimination laws since I don't think "religious expression" should be part of anybody's work day. I think the spirit of the discrimination laws is that everyone should be respected, and no one should be persecuted. But I don't think those laws are intended to create the right to religious "expression" in the workplace. Beliefs, yes. Expression, no. It's just my opinion.

In any case, when you look at the rapidly increasing number of lawsuits that are being filed by employees against employers, it's hard to imagine that so many employees are being so wronged and damaged by so many employers. It's also hard to understand how so many employer-employee relationships have become so contentious. Unfortunately, as long as it is more economically feasible to settle than defend employee accusations, it will be difficult to know what the real truth is about what's really happening in America's workplaces.

Only one thing is for sure... Employees can sue current and former employers for just about anything and new employee lawsuits are being filed every day. Click here for the latest employee lawsuits filed against U.S. retail industry companies >>

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