Employment Practices At Walt Disney Company

Mickey Mouse is big business. Walt Disney Company is the second-largest broadcast and cable media company in the world. It owns a wide variety of businesses that focus mostly on entertainment and news. However, most people know the company for its iconic cartoon characters, its movies and its theme parks.

Like any large corporation, Disney has its share of labor problems. However, the theme parks seem particularly susceptible to controversy involving the media giant's work practices. Allegations range from discrimination to poverty-level wages. The company is known for its anti-union stance, and has been accused of paying slave wages overseas to employees who manufacture toys that sell at a very high margin in the United States. Disney has also emerged as one of the most powerful opponents of the growing national trend to enact paid sick leave for employees.

Are these charges true? That's for the courts to decide. Part of the problem, at least from the perspective of the business, is that being a multi-national corporation is often at odds with maintaining the squeaky-clean image it likes to present. However, some patterns have emerged that give credence to the idea that Disney may not be as squeaky-clean as it would like to portray itself, at least when it comes to employment practices.

Charges of Religious Discrimination

Let's look at some recent stories involving employees of Disney theme parks. In 2012, a U.S. citizen of Moroccan origin filed suit against the "happiest place on earth," charging harassment and religious discrimination at Disney's California Adventure. She allegedly was told she could not wear the hijab because it did not comply with the Disney "look." She was offered the option of wearing a hat or working in a non-public position. When she declined to do either, she says she was fired.

She also claimed that she was harassed by co-workers who used ethnic and religious slurs in her presence. When she reported this to her manager, she said she was told that there was indeed a problem but that no action could be taken.

The former employee believes that many other employees in her work unit were also non-compliant with the Disney "look" policy. Some had tattoos in violation of the policy. Others had piercings, wore jewellery or had haircuts that violated the "look." Christian employees wore ashes on their foreheads on Ash Wednesday, in violation of policy. However, not only were these employees not fired, they were never ordered to change their appearances in the first place, according to the charges.

Another possible incident of religious discrimination involved a Sikh musician who was allegedly fired from his seasonal job because he did not have the "look," a reference to the beard and turban worn by all religious Sikhs. When he applied the following year for the same job, he says he was turned down for the same reason. His lawsuit charged that Disney had violated the Florida Civil Rights Act.

Lawsuit Alleging Age Discrimination

A 26-year veteran of Disney Studios in California filed a lawsuit last summer against the company, charging age discrimination. The employee, a $135,000 per year manager, was allegedly told that his position was being eliminated because the company was making fewer movies. However, a much younger employee was subsequently promoted into a new, similar position. The fired employee charged that he had not been given the option of applying for the new position.

Racial Discrimination Lawsuits

A temporary worker at Walt Disney World recently filed racial discrimination charges against the company. She charged that other employees harassed her and that she was called out by supervisors for her hairstyle and her shoes. She also charged that white employees, who were at least as non-compliant with the look as she was, were not criticized.

Another lawsuit charging racial discrimination was filed last year. Three African-American employees filed suit against Walt Disney World, alleging that the company systematically passed over non-white employees for promotion to management jobs. The three also charged that the company used software that could select white employees' resumes based on naming conventions.

Charges of Gender Discrimination

A woman who worked at Disney Studios sued the company, charging that she had been fired while working on the Muppets Movie in 2011. She alleged that her supervisor often made derogatory comments about female employees, frequently asked invasive questions about her personal life, and told her that she had to choose between working and being a mother. She said that after her dismissal, which was described by the company as part of a restructuring, a much younger man was appointed to a very similar position.

The former employee alleged retaliation, harassment, gender discrimination, failure to take reasonable steps, wrongful termination in violation of public policy, negligent supervision/retention and intentional infliction of emotional distress in the complaint, which sought unspecified damages.

Class Action Lawsuit Charging Wage and Hours Violations

In 2014, a former employee of Disneyland filed a class action lawsuit against the company that included charges of failing to pay vacation, failing to pay wages at the time termination of employment, and committing other wage violations.

A 2011 lawsuit claimed that Disney had misclassified employees as exempt managers so it would not be required to pay overtime. These employees also charged that the company imposed deadlines and work rules that made it impossible for them to take breaks mandated by California labor law.

Is Using Interns a Violation?

A lawsuit charged Disney with using interns to reduce its payroll and depress wages at the properties where interns were used. Disney recruits college students to work at Walt Disney World Resort. These students are allegedly paid significantly lower wages than those paid to regular employees

NLRB Suit Claiming Unfair Labor Practices

In 2006, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) filed suit against Walt Disney World for allegedly outsourcing jobs without bargaining with an employee union. The suit came after a year-long investigation. The employees in question were custodians who cleaned carpets, high dusting and bathroom cleaning. According to the lawsuit, the company informed them that their jobs would be outsourced without first notifying their union, the Service Trades Council, in violation of NLRB rules.

Lawsuit Charging Misuse of Credit Checks in Employment Decisions

Many companies use credit checks in their hiring practices. However, Disney has allegedly taken the common screening technique a step further, failing to notify job applicants of unfavorable hiring decisions based on credit checks. The lawsuit, filed in November 2013, charged that Disney had failed to provide the plaintiff with a copy of the credit report, failed to notify him about the negative information in the credit report before the hiring decision was made, and never sent a written noticed of its decision, known in these circumstances as an adverse action.

The News for Disney Is Not All Bad

In some stories, Disney is equated with Wal-Mart as among the worst companies to work for. However, there is at least one bright spot. Disney is known to be a trailblazer in hiring LGBT employees. Whether this is enough to balance Disney's alleged violations of employee rights in other areas still remains to be seen.