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Family sues SeaWorld’s Sesame Place Philadelphia for alleged racist interaction

By Lauren del Valle, CNN

A Black family, who says Sesame Place Philadelphia character performers racially discriminated against them, filed a class action civil rights lawsuit against the amusement park’s parent SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment in Pennsylvania federal court Wednesday.

The lawsuit filed on behalf of Quinton Burns and his child says that during their visit to Sesame Place in June, employees dressed as Sesame Street characters only interacted with White visitors during a “Meet and Greet” event, refusing to interact with Black visitors.

The costume character performers dressed as Sesame Street characters “Elmo,” “Ernie”, “Telly Monster,” and “Abby Cadabby” refused to engage with the Burns family, “ignoring them and all other Black guests in attendance,” the lawsuit says.

The employees are named as defendants in the lawsuit, which alleges company leadership was previously aware that the four performers held racial biases. “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 filing says.

The lawsuit does not specify the race of the employees.

In a statement, Sesame Place says they will review the lawsuit and “are committed to deliver an inclusive, equitable and entertaining experience for all our guests.”

Attorneys involved in the lawsuit held a news conference Wednesday with Burns and his daughter.

“We stand before you here today simply trying to fight and protect little Black children and their fundamental civil rights,” attorney Malcolm Ruff said.

Though the court filing does not describe an interaction in detail, the legal action comes on the heels of a public apology from amusement park officials to another Black family after a video went viral on social media showing two Black children seemingly snubbed by the “Rosita” character.

That family was unaware of the class action lawsuit before its filing, a family representative told CNN.

In addition to monetary demands, the lawsuit asks the court to compel the defendants to issue a formal apology to Black Americans, conduct psychological screenings to avoid hiring racially bigoted prospective employees and provide existing employees with mandatory cultural sensitivity training and employee educational 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.”

The class action suit aims to rectify what it said was disparate treatment endured by Black patrons of the park who’ve visited since late July 2018, the court filing says.

“This class action lawsuit demonstrates that SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, Inc. and SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment LLC, engages in pervasive and appalling race discrimination against children in the operation of Sesame Place Philadelphia,” the complaint says.

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