The African-American plaintiff claims that Sesame Place performers intentionally ignored his daughter while lavishing attention on White children.
A Maryland father has filed a lawsuit against Sea World and its Sesame Street-themed park in Philadelphia after encountering what he terms “pervasive and appalling” discrimination.
According to NBC News, the lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
The complaint, which seeks class action certification, alleges that plaintiff Quinton Burns took his child to Sea World in Philadelphia on June 18, where they tried to participate in a so-called “Meet and Greet” with employees dressed as Sesame Street characters such as Elmo, Ernie, Telly Monster, and Abby Cadabby.
The lawsuit accuses the paid actors of “intentionally” refusing to interact with Burns’ child and other Black guests while offering routine performances for White people.
Burns and his attorneys claim that SeaWorld thus engages in “pervasive and appalling race discrimination against children in the operation of the Bucks County theme park, a violation of federal and Pennsylvania laws.”
The Bucks County Courier Times observes that, while Burns is currently the sole and lead plaintiff, other victims of alleged discrimination at Sesame Place could join the litigation if its request for class action certification is approved.
William Murphy, an attorney for Burns and his family, suggested that Sea World must be held accountable for discriminating against children.
“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,” Murphy said in a statement.
The lawsuit seeks an estimated $25 million in damages from SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, which owns Sesame Place Philadelphia.
The plaintiffs have also asked the court to order that SeaWorld implement mandatory cultural sensitivity training and classes on the history of racial discrimination.
The Bucks County Courier Times note that Burns filed his lawsuit less than a week after a Brooklyn, New York, woman uploaded a video showing Sesame Place performers actively avoiding Black children while engaging with customers of other races.
Burns’ other attorneys, including Harrisonburg-based Mart Harris, say they want SeaWorld to voluntarily release other discrimination claims they have received from other Black parents.
“We are here to give Sesame Place the opportunity to do the right thing without us forcing them to,” Harris said. “This will be a message to stop it before we catch it.”
SeaWorld has since issued a statement pledging to review the lawsuit and address its claims through the “established legal process.”
“We are committed to deliver an inclusive, equitable and entertaining experience for all of our guests,” the company said.