Make us your home page
Instagram

Ex-USF student sues Disney over turban dispute

A former University of South Florida student sued Walt Disney World, claiming the theme park discriminated against him because of his Sikh headdress.

Sukhbir Channa, 24, claims that Disney discriminated against him because he did not conform to the "Disney look." Channa, a practicing Sikh, wears a dastaar, a turban required by his religion.

"From my perspective as a Jew, what if this policy was being used to discriminate against an Orthodox Jew or someone wearing a yarmulke?" asked Matt Sarelson, the Miami attorney representing Channa. "I'd be offended."

Channa was hired by Disney in October 2005 as a trumpet player for the Disney Christmas celebration, according to his lawsuit, which was filed Thursday in Hillsborough County Circuit Court.

Channa had two responsibilities, "parade" and "atmospheric," the lawsuit explained. During the parade, he wore a toy soldier costume that entirely covered his head. For the atmospheric position, where musicians typically wear red berets, Channa agreed to wear a red turban.

Channa claims that his supervisor later removed him from the atmospheric position because he lacked the "Disney look." The company then fired him in early 2006. The following year, Channa reapplied, the lawsuit claims. His former supervisor said he was an excellent musician, and right for the job, but still had the "look problem." Walt Disney denies Channa's claims.

"Mr. Channa never sought reemployment for the 2006 season," said Disney spokeswoman Jacquee Polak. "His claim that he did and was denied employment is without merit."

Polak added, "We value and respect diversity in our cast members and treat each request for an accommodation individually."

Channa is seeking $1 million in punitive damages.

"The dastaar is a constitutionally protected article of faith with deep religious significance for practitioners of the five-centuries-old Sikh tradition, which promotes universal equality, freedom of expression, tolerance, and compassion," the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund said in a statement Monday. "Sikhs across the United States are often forced by employers and prospective employers to choose between religious freedom and a job."

The Washington, D.C., advocacy group has partnered with Sarelson on the case. The lawsuit was filed in Hillsborough County because the alleged discrimination took place while Channa was a student in Tampa. He now lives in Broward County, his attorney said.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report. Asjylyn Loder can be reached at aloder@sptimes.com or (813) 225-3117.

Ex-USF student sues Disney over turban dispute 06/16/08 [Last modified: Friday, June 20, 2008 12:24pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. McMansions, state sewage order on tap at St. Petersburg City Council

    Local Government

    ST. PETERSBURG — The City Council is set Thursday to vote on two major issues: controversial zoning changes aimed at curbing big McMansion-style homes and a consent order with the state that will require St. Petersburg to fix its ailing sewage system.

    Two big, blocky homes on the 2300 block of Dartmouth, Ave N under construction in April. Several new homes under construction.
in St. Petersburg's Historic Kenwood Neighborhood are too big, residents complain. The St. Petersburg City Council on Thursday is set to consider ordinances aimed at curbing the construction of big "McMansions." [LARA CERRI   |   Times]
  2. Tom James and wife, Mary, talk about their James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art

    Human Interest

    ST. PETERSBURG — As a child, businessman and philanthropist Tom James loved cowboy movies, an affinity that would later play out in a vast collection of Western art amassed over the years with his wife, Mary.

    Tom and Mary James at the site of the Tom and Mary James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art.
Photo courtesy of Raymond James
  3. A reliable Rick Scott ally, Pete Antonacci, named CEO of Enterprise Florida

    State Roundup

    Pete Antonacci, who last week made headlines when he advised scientists to stay in their lane rather than criticize his water agency's work on Everglades restoration, is getting a new job.

    Pete Antonacci, an attorney seen here in 2009, has served many roles for Gov. Rick Scott: general counsel, executive director of the South Florida Water Management District and now, CEO of Enterprise Florida.  [
COLIN HACKLEY | Special to the Times]
  4. Pinellas County budget on the rise thanks to high property values

    Local Government

    CLEARWATER –– After another year of growth, Pinellas County commissioners won't have to fight to pay for critical needs in the 2017-2018 budget.

    The Pinellas County Commission on Tuesday learned the first details of its $2.3 billion spending plan for next fiscal year, which includes funding for the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office. [Courtesy of Pinellas County Sheriff's Office]
  5. Tampa Bay chefs go head to head and Disney Springs gets another James Beard winner

    Food & Dining

    Epic Chef Showdown: Feeding Tampa Bay

    In a shoulder-to-shoulder format cook-off competition, chefs from Parkshore Grill and Mise En Place strove Monday night to become the Epic Chef of Tampa Bay. In this course, using ramen as a mystery box ingredient.