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Black family sues Sesame Place for $25M, alleging racial discrimination

A Baltimore family is suing a Sesame Street-themed amusement park for $25 million U.S. over claims of racial discrimination, alleging multiple costumed characters ignored a 5-year-old Black girl during a meet-and-greet event last month.

Philadelphia-area theme park apologized after separate incident captured on video

Big Bird is shown on a sign near an entrance to Sesame Place in Langhorne, Pa., Dec. 26, 2019. The Sesame Street-themed amusement park has apologized and promised more training for its employees after a video showing a costumed character waving off two 6-year-old Black girls during a parade went viral online. (Jeff Chiu/The Associated Press)

A Baltimore family is suing a Sesame Street-themed amusement park for $25 million U.S. over claims of racial discrimination, alleging multiple costumed characters ignored a 5-year-old Black girl during a meet-and-greet event last month.

The lawsuit comes in the wake of a video, shared widely on social media, showing two other Black girls apparently being snubbed by a costumed employee during a parade at the park in Langhorne, outside Philadelphia. Sesame Place apologized in a statement and promised more training for its employees after the video went viral earlier this month.

The suit, which seeks class action status, was filed in a federal court in Philadelphia against SeaWorld Parks, the owner of the Sesame Place, for "pervasive and appalling race discrimination."

The lawsuit alleges four employees dressed as Sesame Street characters ignored Quinton Burns, his daughter Kennedi Burns and other Black guests during the meet-and-greet on June 18. The lawsuit says "SeaWorld's performers readily engaged with numerous similarly situated white customers."

During a press conference held Wednesday, one of the family's attorneys, Malcolm Ruff, called for transparency from SeaWorld and for the company to compensate the Burns family. The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Sesame Place apologizes for earlier snub

In the earlier incident, a nine-second video posted to Instagram earlier this month showed a performer dressed as the Sesame Street character high-fiving a white child and woman, then gesturing "no" to two six-year-old girls and walking away as they had their arms stretched out for a hug and high-five during the parade at Sesame Place.

"I will never step foot in @sesameplace ever again," Jodi Brown, a mother of one of the girls, said online.

The family's lawyer, B'Ivory LaMarr, told The Associated Press last week the family is appalled and disturbed by the incident and "the injuries propagated to their children."

In an initial statement issued July 17, Sesame Place said the park and its employees stand for "inclusivity and equality in all forms," noting that performers sometimes miss requests for hugs because the costumes they wear make it difficult to see at lower levels.

But the next day, the park apologized to the family and said it is "taking actions to do better," including training staff to "better understand, recognize, and deliver and inclusive, equitable and entertaining experience." 

With files from CBC News

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