Family Sues Sesame Place Theme Park for Alleged Race Discrimination

A family has filed a class action lawsuit against SeaWorld's Sesame Place Philadelphia over alleged racist behavior from character performers against a 5-year-old child and other Black guests.

By Corinne Heller Jul 28, 2022 7:35 PMTags
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L is for lawsuit.

Baltimore man Quinton Burns is suing SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment for $25 million, alleging race discrimination against his 5-year-old daughter. In the civil lawsuit, which seeks class action status, he states that in June, character performers dressed as Elmo, Ernie, Telly Monster and Abby Cadabby ignored his family and "all other Black guests in attendance" during a meet-and-greet at one of the company's Sesame Street-themed park, Sesame Place Philadelphia.

The suit was filed on July 27, more than a week after a viral video showing an encounter between two Black girls' and the character Rosita sparked accusations of racism from viewers. Burns' filing seeks to represent his family as well as other Black visitors who, over the past three years, allegedly "suffered disparate treatment" at the park from workers "ignoring" Black children while "openly interacting with similarly situated white children."

A video posted by NBC Philadelphia appears to show Burns' daughter, identified in the lawsuit as K.B., reaching out toward the Telly Monster and Ernie performers, who do not interact with her but do engage with other kids sitting in front of her.

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"Just looking at her face," Burns told the news station of his daughter's reaction in the video, "it makes me want to cry every time I see it."

Sesame Place Philadelphia said in a statement in response to his filing, "We will review the lawsuit filed on behalf of Mr. Burns. 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."

Gilbert Carrasquillo/Getty Images

In addition to race discrimination, Burns is suing for alleged breach of contract—alleging that his family and potential other class action plaintiffs  "have suffered and continue to suffer monetary and consequential damages" as a result, plus negligence over the company's hiring of the character performers. He also wants SeaWorld to "implement rigorous mandatory cultural sensitivity training for its agents and/or employees."

"Racism is horrible when it's perpetrated against adults, but it's in a separate category altogether of horror when it's perpetrated against kids who can't fight back and who have to struggle to understand how ugly it is and how it must be eliminated from every aspect of American life," one of the lawyers for the Burns family said at a news conference in Philadelphia on July 27, per NBC Philadelphia.

Sesame Street Philadelphia had previously apologized over the incident in the viral video of the two other girls, who are cousins, after one of their moms, Jodi Brown, alleged the Rosita performer intentionally told the kids "no" when they reached their hands out to her and "then proceeded to hug the little white girl next to us" during a parade in the park on July 17. The family, which is from New York, has demanded that the Rosita performer be fired and their attorney has called the incident a "racist act," NBC Philadelphia reported.

According to the outlet, the lawyer said the family does not wish to file a lawsuit—and does not plan to join Burns' suit at the moment—but added that a filing still possible while demanding that Sesame Street Place cover any expenses related to the mental health of the kids, alleging that they are suffering "severe emotional distress."

In a statement, Sesame Place Philadelphia had said that "the Rosita performer did not intentionally ignore the girls and is devastated about the misunderstanding," adding that the costumes its employees wear can "sometimes make it difficult to see at lower levels and sometimes our performers miss hug requests from guests." The park added that the group reached out to the family to apologize and invited them back for a meet-and-greet.

Following further criticism online from viewers, including celebs such as Kelly Rowland, Sesame Place Philadelphia issued another statement.

"We sincerely apologize to the family for their experience in our park," the group said." We know that it's not ok. We are taking actions to do better. We are committed to making this right."

The statement continued, "We will conduct training for our employees so they better understand, recognize and deliver an inclusive, equitable and entertaining experience to our guests. For over 40 years Sesame Place has worked to uphold the values of respect, inclusion and belonging. We are committed to doing a better job making children and families feel special, seen and included when they come to our parks."

(E! and NBC Philadelphia are part of the NBCUniversal family.)

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