"It was my dream since I was a child, to hold such an irreplaceable and important job. Even though I was bullied, I had no choice but to put up with it. The court's decision, to improve the work environment, is more valuable to me than anything else."
The plaintiff in the lawsuit, referred to in Shukan Bunshun (April 14) only as "Ms A" (age 41), was referring to her case against Tokyo Disneyland, where she had been working as a character performer. The woman alleged that the management had subjected her to "power harassment," that led to a physical breakdown. On March 29, the Chiba District Court ruled in her favor and awarded her 880,000 yen in damages.
In a post on its corporate website, Oriental Land Corporation, operator of TDL, denied the charges of pawahara and apologized to visitors to the theme park, which it thanked for their continued support.
"The company made no statement about any intention to improve the working environment, nor did it offer apologies to the plaintiff," a reporter who covered the hearing told the magazine. "So it's natural it was criticized for adhering to the mindset that 'an apology is an admission of guilt.'"
Ms A's mobile phone, on the other hand, was full of emails of encouragement from co-workers voicing support for her efforts.
From her primary school years, Ms A had aspired to be a character performer. From age 18, she had appeared in multiple auditions for the job, and her aspirations were finally realized at age 24.
The work was by no means easy: During summer performances she squeezed into a costume where the interior temperature rose to as high as 50 degrees Celsius.
During a performance in January 2013, an overenthusiastic handshake from a male co-worker injured her fingers; the company doctor diagnosed it as a sprain. When she applied for worker's compensation, her supervisor told her to grin and bear it.
Afterwards Ms A was the recipient of frequent mistreatment from her supervisor, who complained that she was not showing sufficient enthusiasm, along with insulting demands to "lose some weight," or "your costume is too tight on you, it looks awful."
Once when she attempted to talk things over with the supervisor, he allegedly remarked, "Oh so you're sick then? Well you might as well drop dead." Another time he reportedly told her, "Now that you're an old bag over 30; you should quit."
Behind the curtain at the end of one show she was criticized by a leader over her posture, and began sobbing, upon which she was told "You should apologize for crying!" and ordered to drop to a kneeling position and bow in apology.
Ms B (age 32), another female employee, related how she was forced to march in parades while wearing character costumes weighing between 10 to 30 kilograms. After suffering neurological and circulatory damage, she was recognized as eligible for worker's compensation by the local Funabashi office. Disney management, however, was unsympathetic; her case is currently ongoing.
"The court's ruling in favor of Ms A, even in cases where power harassment was not specifically recognized, requires the defendant to modify the work environment so that the worker is not ostracized," says attorney Ryo Sasaki, a specialist in labor problems. "The court's judgement in this case was correct in terms of upholding the worker's rights."
When approached by Shukan Bunshun, Oriental Land declined to comment on the case but insisted that it will "continue to create a work environment where employees can work with peace of mind."
Ms A. was given the last word on the matter.
"It's not magic that enables visitors to the park to view their dreams, but through the hard work of the employees," she said, adding: "That's why we want our employer to recognize this obvious reality and take good care of the workers.
"I took my case to court not to ruin people's dreams, but to safeguard them. I want as many people as possible to be awakened from this kind of bad dream."© Japan Today