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Federal lawsuit accuses SeaWorld's Sesame Place Philadelphia of 'appalling' discrimination

The suit, brought by a Maryland family, was filed shortly after a viral video appeared to show a person dressed as the character Rosita ignoring two Black girls at the park.
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A Maryland father accused SeaWorld of “pervasive and appalling” discrimination at its Sesame Street-themed park in Philadelphia in a federal lawsuit Wednesday, days after a viral video appeared to show a person dressed as the character Rosita ignoring two Black girls at the park.

The suit, filed in Pennsylvania’s Eastern District Court, seeks class-action status, alleging that when the plaintiff, Quinton Burns, took his child to the park on June 18, they tried to participate in a “Meet and Greet” with people dressed as Elmo, Ernie, Telly Monster and Abby Cadabby.

The suit accuses the characters of “intentionally” refusing to engage with the child ⁠— who is identified in the suit only as K.B. ⁠— and ignoring other Black guests while performing for white people.

“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,” William Murphy, a lawyer representing the family, told reporters Wednesday, according to NBC Philadelphia.

The suit seeks $25 million in damages from SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, which owns Sesame Place Philadelphia. The plaintiffs also want the park to implement mandatory cultural sensitivity training and classes on the history of discrimination. 

The lawsuit says it is unclear how many other people could join the suit. Burns did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

SeaWorld did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In a statement, Sesame Place Philadelphia said it was reviewing the suit and would address the claim through "the established legal process."

"We are committed to deliver an inclusive, equitable and entertaining experience for all our guests," the statement said. 

In a separate incident recorded on video and posted to Instagram on July 16, a person dressed as Rosita — Sesame Street’s first bilingual character — can be seen interacting with other guests before shaking the character’s head “no” in the direction of two young Black girls. 

“THIS DISGUSTING person blatantly told our kids NO then proceeded to hug the little white girl next to us!” their mother said on Instagram.

The park said the performer did not intentionally ignore the girls and was “devastated about the misunderstanding.”

NBC News has not verified the allegations, and Sesame Place said the character was shaking its head in response to multiple requests from someone who asked Rosita to hold a child for a photo, which is not permitted.

In a second apology posted July 18, the park said it was “committed to making this right” and that it would conduct employee training.

Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization that oversees the Sesame Street brand, said in a public statement that the company had been assured that Sesame Place, which it described as a licensed park partner, will conduct a “thorough review of the ways in which they engage with families and guests.”

“What these children experienced is unacceptable,” the statement said.