A Baltimore family has filed a $25 million class-action lawsuit against SeaWorld Parks, the owner of Sesame Place Philadephia, alleging racial discrimination by a costume character performer.
The lawsuit filed on July 27 was triggered by a video showing a character at the theme park fanning off two Black girls. Family members of the two girls are calling for the performer who was dressed as the character Rosita to be fired and are considering legal action.
Quinton Burns said four Sesame Place performers ignored him and his daughter and all of the other Black guests when he went to the park on Father’s Day, according to the lawsuit obtained by Atlanta Black Star. He is suing on behalf of all Black families that have faced discrimination at Sesame Place Philadelphia since July 27, 2018.
“[We] 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,” Burns’ attorney Malcolm Ruff said at a press conference Wednesday. “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.”
A video released by the Burns’ legal team shows Kennedi Burns sticking her hands out for Telly Monster to touch it. The performer shakes another child’s hand below Kennedi and out of view and walks off while her hand is still out. Kennedi looked back at the camera and frowned. Ernie also seemingly shakes everyone else’s hand around Kennedi except hers on the video. The lawsuit claims performers dressed as Elmo and Abby Cadabby also did not interact with the biracial girl during a meet-and-greet.
“I am hurt, devastated, me and my wife,” Burns said during the press conference. “Just looking at her face — it makes me want to cry every time I see it.”
The lawsuit alleges SeaWorld Parks violated Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which prevents private companies from refusing to complete contracts because of race. The suit says Burns entered into a contract with the amusement park when he purchased the tickets. The complaint also alleges that the park violated Pennsylvania common law.
Other videos showing similar treatment by Black families at Sesame Place have surfaced online since the initial viral videos. The suit claims that SeaWorld refused to complete its meet-and-greet contract with the Burns and other Black families its costume characters ignored and stripped of the same “enjoyment” as white guests.
The complaint also alleges the amusement breached the contract with the Black families and was negligent by hiring employees who are racist based on common law.
“SeaWorld had a duty and responsibility of care to use reasonable care to select employees who were competent and fit to perform the duties of an amusement park costume character performer,” and should have been able to tell that they were unfit for the job, the lawsuit says.
The amusement park also failed to train and supervise the employees properly under Pennsylvania law, it says.
“We will review the lawsuit filed on behalf of Mr. Burns,” Sesame Place told ABC News in a statement 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.”