Beliefnet News

By Ashly McGlone
Religion News Service

(RNS) A national Sikh group is suing the Walt Disney Co. for $1 million on behalf of a Sikh man who claimed he was fired for not having the “Disney look” because of his turban and beard.
Sukhbir Channa was a trumpet player for a Christmas program at Walt Disney World in Florida during the 2005-2006 holiday season but says he was let go for “not having the appropriate look,” according to a suit filed by the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF).
Channa said he had an agreement with Disney that allowed him to wear his turban instead of the red beret that was part of his uniform. He also worked wearing character costumes, including a toy soldier, that covered his head.
But his supervisor, Larry Hendrickson, concluded that the beard and turban were not part of the “Disney look” and reassigned Channa to other jobs where he did not interact with park visitors, the suit says.
When Channa reapplied to work the 2006-2007 holiday season, Hendrickson again mentioned “the look problem” and declined to hire him again, according to the suit.
Channa’s lawyers say that move violates the Florida Civil Rights Act.
“Disney’s position is fundamentally un-American because it forces Sikhs, and also observant Jews and Muslims, to choose between their faith and their career,” SALDEF Chairman Manjit Singh said. “It is also hypocritical for Disney to make millions of dollars using and vilifying cartoon characters that wear turbans and simultaneously reject the right of an American to wear a turban in accordance with his faith.”
Jacquee Polak, a Disney spokeswoman, disputed that Channa ever “sought reemployment for the 2006 holiday season. His claim that he did was without merit.”
“We value and respect diversity with our cast members and treat each request of this nature individually,” Polak said.
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