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Sesame Place Philadelphia announces company review and racial bias training after allegations of discrimination

The changes come after weeks of online backlash and a multimillion-dollar lawsuit.

Sesame Place Philadelphia announced a company review and pledged to have all employees complete mandatory bias training after a viral video appeared to show prejudice against two young Black girls last month, prompting waves of criticism and a discrimination lawsuit. 

The SeaWorld-owned theme park announced a series of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives Tuesday. They involve a racial equity assessment and a commitment that all of the company’s employees will have received bias training by the end of September. 

Several outside experts will oversee the changes, including a former member of the U.S. Commission for Civil Rights, the company said in a news release. Cathy Valeriano, the president of Sesame Place Philadelphia, said the company has also implemented “some interim measures” during the review, which include consulting with civil rights groups and community leaders. 

“The actions we are taking will help us deliver on our promise to provide an equitable and inclusive experience for all our guests every day,” Valeriano said. 

The family of two young Black girls alleged last month that the Sesame Street character Rosita ignored the children during a parade at the park in mid-July. NBC News has not verified the allegations. Sesame Place said at the time that the character was shaking its head “no” in the video in response to requests for the character to hold their children for photos, which is not permitted. Sesame Place repeatedly apologized to the family for their experience. 

After those allegations emerged, a Maryland man filed a federal lawsuit in Pennsylvania against Sesame Place Philadelphia’s parent company, SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, alleging several characters “intentionally” refused to engage with his child and ignored Black guests. One of the demands in the suit was for the company to implement mandatory cultural sensitivity training and classes about discrimination. The plaintiffs in that suit are seeking $25 million in damages. 

After the first incident, the Congressional Black Caucus called the behavior that was displayed at the park “abhorrent” and requested a meeting with Valeriano. In a statement July 23, Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, the chair of the Black caucus, said the park “should be where all children can go to have fun and celebrate.” 

“Sadly, that has not been the case,” she said.