Court filing claims that park operator knew staff members ‘held personal beliefs of racial bias towards Black people’
A family has launched a lawsuit against an amusement park with a Sesame Street theme, claiming that they were the subjects of racial discrimination.
The lawsuit comes after a video from a separate incident garnered widespread attention on social media, showing two other young Black girls being ignored by a costume character at the park located outside Philadelphia in Langhorne.
The Sesame Place amusement park issued a statement apologising for the incident and said they would expand their employee training following the viral video.
The lawsuit is seeking to attain class-action status and was filed in a Philadelphia federal court against Sesame Place owner SeaWorld Parks, claiming “pervasive and appalling race discrimination”.
The legal filing claims that four staff members at the park, dressed as characters from Sesame Street, ignored Quinton Burns and his daughter Kennedi as well as other Black visitors during the 18 June event.
“SeaWorld’s performers readily engaged with numerous similarly situated white customers”, the legal filing states.
The staffers were dressed as the characters Elmo, Ernie, Telly Monster, and Abby Cadabby. The suit alleges that they ignored the family and “all other Black guests in attendance”.
The lawsuit also claims that the company knew that the four employees, who are named as defendants in the court filing, had racially biased views, CNN reported.
“SeaWorld had actual knowledge that John Does 1-4 held personal beliefs of racial bias towards Black people and that John Does 1-4 had the propensity to discriminate against Black people based on their race or color”, the lawsuit, which doesn’t state the race of the staff members, claims.
“We will review the lawsuit filed on behalf of Mr Burns,” Sesame Place told several media outlets in a statement on Wednesday. “We look forward to addressing that claim through the established legal process. We are committed to deliver an inclusive, equitable and entertaining experience for all our guests.”
Mr Burns and his daughter participated in a press conference on Wednesday alongside attorneys.
“We stand before you here today simply trying to fight and protect little Black children and their fundamental civil rights,” lawyer Malcolm Ruff told the media.
Mr Ruff said they “watched in utter disgust as the viral videos of these beloved Sesame Street characters were discriminating against these innocent Black children and the videos began to flood the internet”.
“She was ignored amongst a sea of other young white children, who were able to interact, give hugs, high-fives, and love from these characters that are supposed to be a source of safety, a source of equity, a source of kindness,” he added.
The lawsuit comes not long after park officials issued another apology after the character Rosita was seen in a viral video appearing to overlook Black children.
In a response to that earlier incident said in a statement to ABC News that “what the two young girls experienced, what the family experienced, is unacceptable. It happened in our park, with our team, and we own that. It is our responsibility to make this better for the children and the family and to be better for all families”.
Park officials added at the time that bias training would be put in place so that employees “can better recognise, understand, and deliver an inclusive, equitable and entertaining experience for all our guests. We have already engaged with nationally recognized experts in this area”.
The lawsuit seeks financial damages and that the defendants issue a formal apology to Black Americans, that they take measures to avoid hiring people with racial biases and that cultural sensitivity training be made obligatory for current staff members.
The court filing also seeks that staff be provided with courses “on the history of discrimination against Black people in America provided by a mutually agreed nationally acclaimed expert in the field of African and Black History and Culture”.